Thursday, February 7, 2019

No need of God. . .

If you have been here before, you have heard me rail against celebrations of life that have replaced funerals and how we have exchanged the blessed hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting for the notion of a well lived life here below.  So I will not repeat myself but focus on a nuance of this whole phenomenon.

It is as if we no longer need God in the face of death.  When the tears of real grief become the sharing of funny story (usually at the expense of the dead), death is no longer something that requires divine intervention.  We have it in check.  We do not need to call upon God in our sorrows but only to wash away the pain only to be consoled by the knowledge of what the dead might have wanted (quick and easy death without pain).  If that better death did not come, the even more death is welcomed as the most merciful of mercies in relieving the suffering of their pain (suffering and pain being worse than death itself).  Again no need of God here.  In fact, when God does not intervene, we can and will with drugs that seem quite effective at providing a painless and quick and easy death (suicide or euthanasia) though curiously somehow ineffective when it comes to the execution of prisoners (odd, isn't it).  Death is just death and God does not need to concern Himself.  We have got it.

All of this seems to have been aided and abetted by the liturgical movement.  In contrast to the dark and solemn colors, sounds, and character of the old funeral requiem, the liturgical movement gave us white and tuned the funeral into a liturgy of joy.  In effect, the liturgical movement converted the solemnity of the funeral rite into an informal beatification in which we celebrated the presumption that the heart of the dead is known to us and they are not in the better place (probably with God) thaqt escaped them on earth.  In some cases, it was hard to escape the gleeful singing of the alleluia for the dead as if it were not such a big deal.  But it is what we wanted to believe after all.  Faith or not, good works or not, evidence or not, we want to believe that heaven is full and hell is empty -- especially when it comes to the old curmudgeon we loved to hate in life but not enough to wish into hell.

Again, God is almost superfluous to the whole thing and Christ has become merely the elevator operator who lifts the dead to their glory, to the good things they must deserve, and to the end of the end of the hopes and dreams the living had for them.  It is surely what the dead would have wanted had the dead been religious at all!

If the Church fails to witness to the horror of death, then she fails to witness to the wondrous mystery of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.  If death is a big deal, then we need a real Savior, God in flesh, to rescue and redeem us from the death that was the side dish in our buffet of choice in which we were gods being served up nothing less than our desires.  So the last thing the Church ought to do is make nice with death and treat it as if it were not such a bad thing, even normal and often welcome, and leave God to the sidelines as we content ourselves with the story of the life of the dead and a few hearty laughs at their expense.

We cannot forget that the one and only ultimate end of man is the beatific vision, seeing God face to face and not in some spiritual vision with our own eyes. Job has it just right.  I know that my Redeemer liveth.  I shall see Him face to face, in my own [new] flesh.  If someone attains this end, he has attained the purpose for which he was created and redeemed in Christ Jesus. If someone fails to attain this, then his whole purpose has been left incomplete and empty. Our final condition is either total victory with God in heaven or total failure without Him in torment.  We either win it all in Christ or lose it all without Him. There is nothing in between, no option for the weak at heart or the hesitant to commit or the spiritual but not religious. The only “happy ending” for the dead is heaven, and the only “tragedy” of death is hell. All the rest is relative.

I do not say this to wound but to remind those for whom God is optional in death that our hope does not lie with us nor does our comfort come from a long or well-lived or happy life.  Christ alone is our comfort.  When Christians begin to suggest that there might be worse things than death, then they usher God to the sideline not only in death but in life.  To preach the horror of death is to acknowledge that though we can try and make our peace with the last enemy to be destroyed, God cannot.  His ache for our need sent forth His one and only Son to be born of a Virgin to die in our place, to suffer for the guilty so that they might be declared righteous, and to rise to bestow upon the dead what they have no right to hope for apart from Christ.

Be careful with the way we approach death for it is a grave temptation for the Christian to treat death in such a way that Christ and His resurrection are more afterthought than central truth and hope.  Thanks be to God that the Most High was not willing to settle for this life only and had the strength of love and the courage of heart to do whatever was necessary to rescue and redeem the dead.  If you do not hear that at the funeral of a Christian, you have not heard the Gospel.


Anonymous said...

"The Celebration of Life" was an invention by the Funeral Home
industry to remain relevant. Obviously, the Christian would
want their funeral service in a church. However, the non-Christian
had no place to go but the funeral home. So the Funeral Home
Industry took advantage of modern technology and made slide shows
available that highlighted the deceased's life.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: you wrote, “So the last thing the Church ought to do is make nice with death and treat it as if it were not such a bad thing, even normal and often welcome, and leave God to the sidelines as we content ourselves with the story of the life of the dead and a few hearty laughs at their expense.”
It is a false dilemma to pit welcoming death against leaving God to the sidelines. Is it not necessary for the faithful pilgrim to yearn for home, while giving God the highest honors? Is it, in fact possible for the faithful pilgrim not to yearn for home while giving God the highest honor?
Here are a few verses from Scripture, that treat death “as if it is not such a bad thing, even normal and often welcome”:
Ecclesiastes 7:1, A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.
Isaiah 57: 1The righteous perish,
and no one takes it to heart;
devout men are swept away,
with none considering
that the righteous are guided
from the presence of evil.
2Those who walk uprightly enter into peace;
they find rest, lying down in death.

Psalm 116:15: Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

2 Samuel 12:22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ 23 But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
Philippians 1:21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
1 Corinthians 15: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 4:13, 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. (Why do so many pastors try to tell us that we should “mourn as those who have hope,” when the text clearly tells us we should not mourn?)
And finally, the words of our Lord, John 14:28, “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father ….”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

Can you yearn for home without liking death?

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters wrote:

"If death is a big deal, then we need a real Savior, God in flesh, to rescue and redeem us from the death that was the side dish in our buffet of choice in which we were gods being served up nothing less than our desires."

Buffet of choice? How then, can the leader of the Roman Catholic Church choose to sign a "Statement of Interfaith Brotherhood" with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb declaring that the diversity of religions "is willed by God?" The Muslims believe that Jesus was merely a significant human prophet and not God. How then, after the Pope signs the Interfaith Agreement, can the Roman Catholic church continue to teach that there is no salvation apart from the saving grace of Jesus the Son of God.

Wouldn't it make more sense for Rome to admit that the Council of Trent was a mistake than to cozy up to Islam?

Anonymous said...

You'r think. But then the ELCA cozies up to everyone but confessional Lutherans so, that is how it goes.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Marquart

You wrote Why do so many pastors try to tell us that we should “mourn as those who have hope,” when the text clearly tells us we should not mourn?

That is NOT what the text says at all. It does not say no mourning but no mourning without hope. Death is for us the final enemy to be overcome and though we know the outcome, what awaits on the other side of the door, that does NOT mean that the door is a happy thing to go through for the dying or those who mourn. Did not Jesus weep at the death of Lazarus? You so often write as those we were not still in this world, not still battling sin in our bodies, not still facing weakness and temptation, not still facing death and the grave. We live in the broken world and we die -- not the eternal death most to be feared but death from which we must await the Savior to raise us up from the grave, bestow upon us a new and glorious body, and deliver us to life everlasting and the great reunion with those who died before us. You are a strange one and although I never comment, I could not help myself but wonder why you write as if it were all so cut and dried and we need no repentance from our sins still sinned or tears in the face of grief or loss.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous: I believe that, “so that you may not grieve” says that we should not grieve. The “without hope” simple defines “the others” or “the rest.” You may wish to consult a Greek scholar, but I believe that he or she would tell you that “grieving” and “without hope” have no grammatical relationship to one another.
More importantly, you write, “Did not Jesus weep at the death of Lazarus?” Because our human nature cannot comprehend the Gospel, we assume that whatever Jesus did, He did for the same reason we would. Read the whole story, beginning with John 11. Is there any indication that Jesus is concerned about the passing of Lazarus? No, he waits until He is sure Lazarus is dead. Before He wept, and after He wept, twice we are told that He was greatly disturbed (and deeply moved, verse 33). If you look up the Greek text (and you can do that on the Internet without being a Greek scholar), you will find that the Greek words mean that our Lord was irritated and even angry. The reason for that is given in verse 33, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her, also weeping, He was greatly disturbed…” After Jesus wept, we are told, verse 36, “So the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!” In John’s Gospel the witness of “the Jews” is most often not true, but false. Therefore, I assert that our Lord did not mourn because Lazarus had died. Knowing that He would resurrect Lazarus in a few minutes, why should He suddenly mourn, when Scripture gives us no indication that He mourned at any time during the several days before He wept? No, He wept because He was about to return Lazarus from Paradise to this vale of tears. You need to understand that mourning is fundamentally a selfish act; we mourn because we feel the loss, we feel sorry for ourselves. We know that our salvation could not have been accomplished if our Lord had committed one selfish act. This is made crystal clear in the words of our Lord about His own death, when just a few days after raising Lazarus, He said, John 14:28, “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father ….” Not mourn, but rejoice! We cannot understand this by reason, as we can understand the Law, but only by God’s revelation to us, through the Holy Spirit, Who dwells in each Christian, of the precious, life-giving Gospel.
Yes, we are still in the world, but not of the world. If battling sin, weakness and temptation is the main part of our spiritual lives, we are wasting a lot of energy on ourselves (as if these could earn us salvation), and ignoring our Lord’s New Command, that we love one another as He loved us. Those to whom our Lord says, Matthew 25:34, “Come, you that are blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” were those who fed, gave to drink, clothed, cared for and visited “the least of His bretheren.”
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart