Monday, November 2, 2015

A hard day. . .

Yesterday was a hard day for me.  It was the first All Saints' Day since my father-in-law, my own dad, a couple of aunts and uncles, and a cousin close in age to me died.  Add to that a member of my parish my own age and a number of folks who were in life's prime when I first came to this parish.  It was the first All Saints' liturgy in which their names were added to the names said from the altar while the bell tolled in the background. 

Death is not normal or natural -- except in the most cruel and bitter of senses.  Unless we are ready to consign all of life since the Fall to realm of eternity, we live in terrible tension with the reality that we experience and the grief that we bear now and the new reality that forms our hope and the joy of the future to come when we are reunited with the faithful in everlasting light and life.  Death sucks.  It hurts not to have a father -- whether you are a little child or a man approaching retirement.  It hurts to feel the loneliness of those who once surrounded and defined your life now gone.

There can be a kind of mercy in death -- when God allows death to end the long suffering of those whom we love -- but even this mercy is not without its pain and loss.  God knows this.  Precious in His sight are the death of His saints.  He knows first hand the wound of grief when His one and only Son stood alone to carry the suffering of the cross and to be marked for a death that should have been ours.  When Jesus shed tears for Lazarus, He wept for God over each of us and for all who die.  While there is comfort in this, the answer to our grief and our pain lies not in the fact that God acknowledges our wounds or knows the sharp pain of death first hand.  No, it lies in the fact that unlike us, God has done something about it.  He ended death's triumphant reign and opened the grave.  He died never to die again and He lives triumphant over death as the first born of those who still sleep.

Our hope lies not merely in the fact that God knows how hard it is but rather that God will reach down into the earth and bring forth those who have died and give to them the life that was not theirs until He gives it to them.  That is why creation groans and our hearts ache.  We know the outcome of the faith but in the tension of already but not yet we yearn for the finish of that new creation, of the blest reunion with those who have died in Christ, and for the glorious flesh that Christ already wears.

If you, like me, have carried grief in your hearts.  If you hate death and what it has done to what God made to be perfect.  If you lament the sin that gave birth to its ugly and brutal son called death.  Pray for the finish of His new creation, for the culmination of all that He has promised, and for gate of death to pass through as once did all who died in Christ.  And live in Christ, close to the Church, fed and nourished by the holy food of Christ's flesh and blood, showing forth the good works of Him who called you from darkness into His marvelous light.  For the night will soon be ending, the dawn cannot be far.  God dwells with us in darkness and makes the night as day.  Though we resist the brightness and turn from God away, His grace does not forsake us, however far we run.  God claims us still as children through Mary's Infant Son.


Unknown said...

Dear Rev. Peters: You write, “When Jesus shed tears for Lazarus, He wept for God over each of us and for all who die.” But what did He say about His own death? In His last discourse with His Disciples, on the night He was betrayed, He said, John 14:28, “If you loved Me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father…” Did Jesus love Lazarus? He loved Him more than we can imagine. Was Lazarus going to the Father? There can be no doubt about that. So why did Jesus not rejoice that Lazarus had gone to the Father, as He urged His Disciples to do about His own death? Because He was going to bring Him back from the Father into this vale of tears and suffering. Because He was not going to do Lazarus any favors by bringing him back. Lazarus had to pay the price for the proof of the words, John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Our Lord Jesus, the Christ, and all the heavens rejoice at the death of every saint. Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” If we weep when heaven rejoices, we put ourselves at odds with heaven. Death is the gateway to that place where, Romans 8:18, “… I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” It is no longer a curse, 1 Cor. 15:55, ““O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Peace and Joy, even in death!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

"If we weep when heaven rejoices, we put ourselves at odds with heaven."

That is a wondrously foolish statement! Perhaps in time you will grow in the faith to see "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope." 1 Thess. 4. The greek there implies that it is not saying we won't grieve, but our grieving is not like others! Christians most certainly can shed tears, mourn, weep while in the joy of the resurrection. Also consider when a Christians weeps over their sin, does not heaven rejoice? Also consider, was Abraham sinning in Gen. 23:2; the people sinning over Moses death in Deut. 34:8; Psalm 30:5 doesn't sound like sinful weeping. Jesus said "blessed are you who WEEP!" Luke 6:21. And is St. Paul in error in Romans 12:15?! And you can certainly find negative examples of weeping as sinful. It certainly depends on the state of the person weeping. And you are terribly wrong for your criticism.

Unknown said...

Dear Anonymous: I don’t know how much time I have left to grow in faith, but in my eightieth year of life, I suspect it isn’t all that much. Of course we will grieve. Don’t you think I grieve? But I do not look at that as an accomplishment of faith, but a failure. It is a failure, which just as all others, my dear Lord forgives. Do you think that my eternal welfare is threatened, because I think we should not weep when heaven rejoices? It is important to understand the cause and effect relationship here about what causes what. Heaven’s rejoicing should not cause my grieving, but my grieving may cause heaven’s rejoicing. We should not judge perfection by our imperfection.
It is perfectly natural for people to grieve at the death of a loved one. But then what is natural is not necessarily God-pleasing. Why do we confess that we are “by nature” sinful and unclean? To call what is sin “no-sin” is the essence of “cheap grace.” If we are going to be honest about it, mourning for the dead is essentially an expression of the loss we feel, not sorrow for the fate of the departed, unless we feel the person has gone to the warm place – a judgement we are not entitled to make. Find me a commandment from God about morning for the dead.
Of course, St. Paul is not wrong in Romans 12:15. Did I say anywhere that all weeping is wrong? But he also said Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”
Speaking of Philippians, in it St. Paul mentions several times how much he yearns “to be with Christ,” a euphemism for dying. But, in chapter 2:25ff, when Epaphroditus recovers from what seemed a mortal illness, St. Paul writes, v27, “But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another.” So what is desirable for St. Paul suddenly becomes undesirable for Epaphroditus.
I have to confess that your patronizing tone annoys me. That too is a sin, for which I ask forgiveness. You may also want to address my main point; you have only addressed what is the conclusion about why Jesus wept before He raised Lazarus.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Pastor Peters said...

George, While I get your point, I do not think you got mine. To grieve with tears is not to ignore heaven or to weep in the face of heaven's joy at all. It is to acknowledge what sin has done to God's gift, to weep for the cause that brought Jesus into flesh, onto the cross, and into our death, and to ache with all creation groaning in yearning for and in expectation of the new creation. I weep for my loss not because I do not know or rejoice in the hope of my own joyful resurrection and the blest reunion in the everlasting marriage supper of the Lamb but because death puts into sharp focus what sin has stolen from us and how great is His accomplishment to chart the course where we shall follow. It was a hard All Saints because in voicing my father's name I am aching death{ wound made even more personal but it was also a day of rejoicing for I spoke his name as one of those, washed clean in baptism and set apart for the eternal life whom I will see again.

Unknown said...

Dear Rev. Peters: Thank you for your most gracious response. I am profoundly sorry if I have somehow caused you any personal anguish by my remarks.
My sole point is that our Lord wept prior to raising Lazarus from the dead, because He felt sorry for returning His friend from perfect bliss to the vale of tears. Our Lord’s own words about His death appear to confirm what He thinks should be our reaction when someone goes “to be with the Father.” But then we know that we do not love as He loves. To make our inability to love perfectly into a virtue, simply because it is natural, is part of what I object to.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Tressa said...

Thank you, Pastor Peters. A lovely reminder and just what I needed to hear. I miss my mom.

Anonymous said...

Really sorry about your losses, Pastor. My family lost our beloved father, "Papa" also this past summer and it has been hard. We have not found the LCMS to be of much comfort, however.

Our mother thought that she should ask the new pastor to do the funeral, who barely knew the family, although the former pastor, now retired was still in town, lest she offend. Rather than offering comfort to the grieving family and friends, the guy preached this really awful sermon about how the sheep would be divided from the goats and the goats would go to the bad place. My siblings and mother listened in horror as one of my brothers and his wife have a small goat farm and our father LOVED visiting the farm to see the goats. When his health did not permit him to travel farther than the doctor's office, then my brother would tell stories and show him photos and videos of the goats and our father enjoyed this too, even when he was getting hospice care. After the funeral, one friend who had attended remarked to me that the pastor certainly made him feel unwelcome and how he would never consider attending that church. Maybe that is what the LCMS is supposed to do at funerals? Put the fear of the bad place into the attendees?

My siblings and I were all baptized and confirmed in the LCMS years ago but we have all since found other denominations and with "Pastor Goathater" there, we are not going back and none of the grandchildren attend. Our mother is still going to church there but she is 86 and has friends in the congregation.

I have been wanting to tell the pastor about how his unpleasant sermon has made our mother cry numerous times when she thinks about it and she is blaming herself for asking him to do the service but she said no, please don't rock the boat. Mom is still pretty healthy but Pastor Goathater is not going to be doing her funeral when it does take place. One sister pointed out that our shock and horror during the funeral did keep us from weeping, we sat in a row and glared at Pastor Goathater. -- Mavis