When Death Becomes Real, You Need A Real Savior

Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

How often have you watched a movie or read a book, and the hero dies? You know, it is usually at the story's climax when the hero dies. Typically the hero is lying in the arms of a friend or lover after doing something heroic and then says something profound – something only a hero would say. And then, the hero dies. But deep down, this typically does not unsettle us too much. Sure, we like the drama of the hero dying because, deep down, we all know that the hero will come back to life by the end of the movie. Or, there will be some sort of sequel where producers will come up with a story that the hero did not actually die. Again, deep down, we often do not worry too much about a hero's death because we know they will come back to life. 

We also see this in the video games that we play. You know, when you are playing a video game, and the game character is either killed by an alien, squashed by a turtle shell, or falls off a cloud into a chocolate pond, all you have to do is hit the ‘start button, and you get a new life. You get to keep playing the game. Again, death is not a big deal to a video game player because they can easily resurrect their character to play the level one more time.

So, what’s my point of all of this? 

Dear friends, we live in a time that is so familiar with death, yet at the same time so inexperienced with death. Our culture is saturated with death – it is routinely found in our stories, in our video games, and in our news; however, we are relatively naïve and inexperienced with death. But how can it be said that we are so inexperienced and naïve concerning death? 

Consider our reading from the Gospel of Luke. Take a moment and consider the reaction of the mother and crowd. 

Her son had died, so they carried the dead son out on a stretcher to place him in a cave. And the mother? Well, she was crying very loudly – not soft. And then, here is something profound. When Jesus came up to the dead son, He said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”  And the dead man did just that – he got up. But here is what I want you and me to notice – the mother and crowd were then seized by fear.  Yes, fear rushed in at the resurrection of the man and took ahold of them. This was an exceedingly great fear, the kind of fear that grabs ahold of a person. But why did fear seize them? Why wasn’t their immediate reaction relief, joy, or happiness? 

As a pastor, at every funeral that I officiate, I make sure to go to the coffin and touch the deceased person’s hands. I don’t like doing this, but when I do, it sobers me. The cold feeling on a deceased person’s hand actually stings the soul – it makes death real. It keeps me from becoming desensitized. I also encourage other people to do the same, and I try to bring little children to the casket of a loved one and have them touch grandpa or grandma’s cold hands. However, I have noticed more and more resistance among people to want to touch and even see a deceased person. While I am not trying to be insensitive, a great irony exists in our culture. The night before a funeral, we can watch a movie where a person’s life is taken without so much as flinching at all; however, the next day at a funeral, we don’t want to see the casket and deceased person. In fact, I have had parents get agitated with me for even suggesting that their child should go and see grandpa and grandma in the casket. Truth be told, the children are typically quite all right seeing grandpa or grandma in the casket, with a pastor at their side explaining the resurrection; however, more often than not, it is the parents who are uncomfortable with the sting of death.  

And, so the point being when we do not fully embrace the reality of death, we will never stand in holy reverence before the good news that Jesus resurrects the dead. When we become desensitized to death itself, well… the resurrection of the dead becomes nothing more than a video game character reboot. When we are casual with death, the resurrection can be reduced to a predictable plot to the story of life, just like how Hollywood brings the hero back from the dead for a sequel. When we are lighthearted with death, the resurrection becomes empty talk. But, when we touch the cold body of a loved one, death has a way of sobering us up right away. Death has a way of stinging our souls as we feel the cold touch of a loved one. Death has a way of rattling our cages, shaking our world, and disrupting our routines. And you know what? It should. Death is inconvenient, and it should make us unsettled. It should make us weep and cry loudly because it is our enemy.

And that is where things become quite real for you and me in this Christian faith. You see, your Jesus, that day in the town of Nain, reached out and touched that stretcher with a cold corpse. And with a simple word, Jesus chased away death, and warm life was restored to that young boy. And while the full sting of death had rattled their cages, disrupted their routines, and stung their souls, that resurrection of the dead young man grasped them with reverent fear even more. The impossible happened – life returned. Death was big to them, which is why the resurrection was even bigger when it overcame death. 

Baptized Saints, the very thing that happened to that young man that day in Nain will be the same thing that will happen to you, me, and our loved ones who are baptized into Christ. We will all be resurrected – made alive. And this reality of the future resurrection is not a theory, a pious sentiment, or a feel-good idea. It is a reality that will happen, which means that when we think about the resurrection, we should be gripped with reverential fear; the majesty and power of the resurrection should grab ahold of us – seize us.  

Perhaps one of the reasons why we humans often diminish death is because we frankly do not know how to deal with the resurrection. Think about that for a moment; if the resurrection is true (which it is), that reality would change everything in this world. If there is the resurrection of the dead, that means there is a Savior. And if there is a Savior that defies the law of death, then we must take Him seriously. What He says and does should not only define our lives but should also captivate our minds, body, and souls. But if we can downplay the sting of death, well, the resurrection can just stay a theological fiction in our mind or be classified as a nice pious fairytale meant to make us feel warm and fuzzy from time to time.  

Baptized Saints, you must have the courage to look into the darkness of death and see it for what it is. Do not go down the path of desensitization and naiveness with death. You must be ready for death to sting you, hurt you, and wound your soul. Because if you downplay death, well… the power of the resurrection will become meaningless to you. Instead, hear and know this: your loved ones are real people who die a real death and are raised by a real Savior to real life - forever. Your Jesus spoke to real dead ears and a real dead body and that real young man obeyed. Death was really chased away, and life was really restored. 

And so, like that mother and the people of Nain, death should rattle you, and the bold reality of the resurrection should grip you even more. It is quite all right to be greatly perplexed and undone by the Lord’s favor. This is what is meant by our Small Catechism when it says that we fear, love, and trust in God almighty. We fear Christ because we take Him seriously. We have a fear of the resurrection because it is more powerful than you and me and death itself. And yet, at the very same time, we love our Lord and trust Him. We love Him because He forgives us of our sins and will raise us from the dead. And finally, we trust Him because He takes care of us and fulfills His promises from our baptisms to the grave and unto the resurrection of the body to life everlasting.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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