Facing Death Fully

Text: 1 John 3:1-3 and Matthew 5:1-12
In the name of Jesus: Amen.
This morning we name the names of our dead, those of our church family who have died in the past year.  We name Ashley, Jeff, and Lou before the altar and before the Lord.  We also remember all other loved ones who passed away this last year as well: brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, aunts, and so forth.
For some, you will hear the names of those who passed away, but will not know much about them.  For others, you will hear their names and know them intimately as their life was intertwined with your life. 
Furthermore, with the names of those who passed away, there may be happiness or pain or both.  Their name may bring forth a wonderful memory, a memory that you have not considered in a long time, whereas, that same name may bring forth the pain of grief and loss. 
Whether we experience pain or happiness or regret or anger, we must be honest before the Lord though.  Yes, we must have courage to be honest this morning in this church and on All Saint’s Day.  Nothing else will do before the Lord.  Otherwise stated, we need to be careful to avoid the clichés of death, those sayings that are nothing more than false façades that attempt to lessen the sting of death.  We need to avoid euphemisms, which are soft and tame words that are used in the place of strong and blunt words about death.  Clichés and euphemisms such as:
“We’re not having a funeral, we’re having a celebration; God needed another angel; God wants to make you stronger through this; God never gives you more than you can handle; everything happens for a reason; they didn’t die, but simply passed on; he was a really good man.”   
Yes, we must avoid these foolish clichés and euphemisms, for they do not change the facts about death, but often confuse things and make things worse.  Sure they might bring comfort to a person experiencing grief and they might help a person feel better about granting comfort to a mourning friend, but the fact of death remains a fact no matter how much we try and cover it up and lesson its bite.  Therefore, death needs to be recognized; we should not skirt around the issue of death.
In Noel Coward’s play This Happy Breed, a man’s son is killed in the war and his friends try to help him with pious sounding clichés and euphemisms for death.  Out of the emptiness of his heart, the grieving father finally cries out, “He didn’t pass on, pass out, or pass over; he just bloody well died.” This brutal honesty about death - calling death out for what it is – shows that there is finality to death, a finality that we so desperately try and avoid.  To shove all the clichés and euphemisms off to the side and admit that the nail is in the coffin and that death has had the last word, takes courage; it calls a spade a spade.    
You see, it is hard to strip away the clichés and it is hard to strip away the euphemisms, for death is dark and the grave is deep and cold.  We want the clichés and we want the pious sayings for they attempt to lessen the sting of death.  Bluntly stated, without the clichés, death has a way of stripping life of its meaning and purpose leaving us saying, “What is the point of going on living when the one most precious in all the world has died?”
Even though starring into the dark abyss of death is difficult and takes great courage, we need to.  Yes, it is healthy and important to face death head on, to come face to face with it and consider its claim of finality.
Once we look into the coffin, once we stare down the dark grave, and once we sign the death certificate, we can then say that we have faced death fully… or have we. 
Dear friends, you and I have not faced death fully unless we have faced the death on Mt. Calvary. 
At Mt. Calvary, Jesus Christ experienced ultimate death where He was forsaken by God the Father.  He died between two criminals.  He was not guilty of any sin, but cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” as He suffered condemnation, hell, and wrath for our sin that was laid upon Him.  This is the ultimate death, the forsakenness of God.  All death of God’s children leads to this ultimate death of the Son of God.  To look upon Mt. Calvary and the blood stained cross is to face death fully.    
As we consider this ultimate death on this All Saint’s Day, we mustn’t nearly stop with Jesus’ words of, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” but we must push through these words to hear different words.  These words come forth from the dying Savior as He cried out boldly, “It is finished!”  In other words, as we consider Christ-crucified we not only hear about Christ bearing our sin upon Himself as if it was His own, but we also hear that He is not the enemy of God, but doing the saving will of God.  And as we gaze upon this ultimate death of finality, we hear that Jesus goes through death and rises from the grave.  This once bloodied, tormented, slaughtered Lamb of God is now the risen one who sits on the “throne of God and of the Lamb.” 
It gets better.  The name of this crucified and resurrected Savior – the name of Christ - was placed upon you and upon the Saints of this church that died.  His name was put upon you with the water of Baptism.  Yes, the cross of the Lamb who was slain was marked upon your head and upon your heart: marking you as one of the redeemed.  This means that this Christ will not let go of you, me, and the departed Saints of this church.  He will not let you let go of God. 
This morning, we read the names of the departed, trusting in that forgiveness won on Mt. Calvary by the Lamb who was slain, Jesus Christ.  It is He who is our judge.  It is He who answered for our sins on the cross.  What Christ did is given to you as your own possession.  His death is for you, His life is for you, and so you are forgiven and righteous with His righteousness.  It is all yours from Jesus, the Lamb of God.    
Looking into the ultimate death of Jesus Christ and knowing that our earthly deaths are not the final say, also allows us to be free from the gripping fear of death.  Today, in this protective Ark – God’s holy church – you are free to mourn with a mourning that is free of clichés and euphemisms.  You can be truthful about death, you are free to weep the tears that Jesus shares with you as you hear His words, “Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.” 
Dear Baptized Saints and you who mourn the loss of dear loved ones, take comfort for Jesus does not just talk about comfort; He has accomplished comfort for you and me at Mt. Calvary.  In other words, as we mourn the loss of our loved ones today, we know that the hands that hold us are the hands that were pierced on Mt. Calvary.  Furthermore, these hands hold us in our mother’s womb, they hold us through life, they hold us on our death bed, and they hold us through the valley of the shadow of death into eternity. 
When grief and pain strip us of everything, when the loss of the loved one seems to pull us into a pit emptying our hands of everything, do not fear for the Lord places into our empty hands His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Blessed are you who are given to by God. 
Despite the pain, complexity, grief, and struggle of death and dying, you are never outside the Lord’s protective hands. Despite the lies, deceptions, and partial truths of the world, the Lord has never lied to you. And He has never failed to do what He has promised.  You can count on Him. 
Listen today: you currently possess eternal life, right now in time.  Although you cannot see glory now, you and I walk by faith knowing and confessing that when Jesus appears again that we shall be like Him: bodily resurrected ‘with’ the departed Saints of this church.  He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
Therefore, this All Saint’s Day, we not only mourn in freedom, but we rejoice and are glad in the midst of our loss, for through Christ the sting of death has been overcome by victory.  Through this victory we anticipate the bodily resurrection and the day when we all shall see the Lamb of God face to face, in all glory, majesty, and honor, without sin, without the devil, and without death.
Indeed, on “the Last Day, God will raise all the dead and transform the decaying dust of our flesh into a new, immortal body.  God will destroy this present, sinful earth and replace it with a new heaven and earth.  There, all who believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins will live with Him and enjoy His presence forever.”[1] 
This promise is for you, for me, and for our departed Saints. 
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Note: Large portions of this sermon are indebted to Norman Nagel’s ‘All Saint’s Day Sermon’ from Matthew 5:1-12 at Valparaiso University (November 1, 1981).

[1] James Batchelor, “All Saint’s Day,” LCMS Sermons http://lcmssermons.com/index.php?sn=4343 (Accessed October 31, 2015).

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