Beckett: Funeral Sermon – Jesus Confounds Death

Date: September 20, 2022
Funeral: Carol Tice
Text: Romans 8:31-39
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Appointed Scriptures: Genesis 18:1-15; Romans 8:31-39; Matthew 6:25-34
Sermon Hymn: LSB #735 Have No Fear, Little Flock

Brian, family, and friends of Carol: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Introduction: Obsession with Human Mortality

I recently started reading the classic novel, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. I know, it’s a very strange book to mention at a funeral. I never thought I’d ever say the name “Frankenstein” in a sermon, let alone a funeral, but bear with me for a moment. At the beginning of the book, you learn that what fuels Dr. Frankenstein’s obsession with human mortality is what he calls “the secrets of heaven and earth” and “the mysterious soul of man,”[1] especially when his mother died of scarlet fever, for which we still have no vaccine or cure, much like cancer. When his mother dies, he calls death an “irreparable evil,” and he says this about the surreal strangeness of grief:

It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she, whom we saw every day, and whose very existence appeared a part of our own, can have departed forever—that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished, and the sound of a voice so familiar and dear to the ear can be hushed, never more to be heard.

p. 45

It takes a considerable long time to grow accustomed to the absence of a loved one who’s passed away. Carol’s existence was a part of Brian’s own—as a true symbol of marriage, Brian and Carol came as a packaged deal. Wherever Brian was, Carol was not far behind, and vice versa; and for this, I will never think of the sacristy the same where they both often served together. Thus, her existence was also a part of her church’s own as she served on the Altar Guild, with the quilters, and communed with her fellow saints in these pews. It will take a long time for all of us to grow accustomed to her untimely absence—the absence of the sparkle in her eye when she smiles, and the passing sound of her voice in our ears.

Here’s where Dr. Frankenstein failed in his grief, which many of us are far too prone to imitate: he threw himself into his work and fell deeper into his obsession with human mortality. Conversely, here’s where Carol prevailed: she threw herself into the love of Christ. Rather than throwing ourselves into obsessions with human mortality, like Carol we throw ourselves into the life of Christ, the One who rose from the dead. This is what Carol did in her last few weeks. She occupied herself with the victory she has in Christ.

Sure, Victor Frankenstein was correct in his estimation: the wages of sin, death, is an irreparable evil insofar as our human powers are concerned. Perhaps death drives some of us to despair because when confronted with death, we face not only the mortality of our loved one as well as our own, but we also face the reality that we are utterly powerless to rectify death and the world’s most deadly diseases. Not even the world’s best doctors can reverse death, let alone cancer. Even should a person’s cancer go into remission, they live in fear knowing it could rear its ugly head again and this time have victory over them.

So, yes, death is irreparable. At least for us. But it is not irreparable to Christ, and Carol knew this. That’s why she chose today’s sermon text, Romans 8:31-39.

The Power of God’s Love

Something I think I’ll always remember about Carol is that every Sunday, before church started, she would sit in her usual pew and read and meditate on the Scripture readings for the week. She loved reading God’s Word because she loved Jesus. And Jesus loves her. Did you pay attention to the words in Romans 8? Let’s read them again, but carefully this time {read deliberately}:

What then shall we say to these things? [What things is Paul talk about? Suffering.] If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect [like Carol]? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Cancer may have taken Carol from us, but it is not powerful enough to take her from Christ.

Now, there’s a lot of uncertainty in our times. Things like disease and waiting for the cancer to either go in remission or take our loved one away only magnify the uncertainty. Death interrupts the plans we’ve made and intensifies the uncertainty. Yet Paul assures us there is reason for certainty—for the sureness of faith, and this is the certainty Carol had despite the uncertainty of that irreparable evil we call cancer and death. I heard the story that just two hours before her death, with family gathered around her, she suddenly opened her eyes and said, “What are you all crying for? I’m going to be in a better place.” What a lesson of faith she’s taught all of us: Faith is certainty.

The certainty Paul speaks of is not a certainty we can achieve. Carol knew this. Rather, she knew that it is the certainty of God’s doing, and this is what she wants you—nay, what God wants you to remember today. Certainty is based on the premise of His love. We stand with certainty not in a momentary mood, or the euphoria of victory, or the dysphoria of loss; rather, we stand in the promise of the Lord. We stand in the life of God that He has given us—the life that was secured for us in the death and resurrection of Christ, like Carol did. She died with the certainty that death would not “be able to separate [her] from the love of God in Christ Jesus [her] Lord.” But what does this mean? How can love have power over death?

I’m sure that Brian, out of his love for Carol—like all of us here—would more than like to have the power to bring Carol back. But alas! we cannot. But God can, and He will. God’s love is a love so powerful that He reverses death. When Jesus died and rose from the dead, He didn’t do this for Himself; He did this for you. For Carol. As Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” [John 3:16]. Replace “the world” with your name, with Carol’s name, “For God so loved Carol, that He gave His only Son, that she who believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

As Frankenstein’s “monster” tells his story, he is the most benevolent creature you can imagine, but you then learn that he indeed becomes a monster when he murders a child because of the absence of his creator’s love. God the Creator’s love for Carol is not absent. The love with which God loved Jesus is the love that gave Him over to death so that you might not die eternally to sin but also the resurrection of Jesus so that you, Carol, and all who believe in Him would have eternal life.

Just two chapters earlier in Romans, Paul writes that to be baptised is to be buried with Christ in death and to receive the promise of the resurrection that will be just like Jesus’ resurrection [6:5]. This is why nothing in death or life can separate Carol from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus because she was baptised into His death and resurrection—into His love so deep that He gave His life for her so that she might live eternally. She had already died when she was baptised before cancer abruptly took her from us. She died to sin, and she died to death, and lives to Christ Jesus, the One so powerful that He rose Himself from the dead through God’s own love, which means it is also His love.

And when He comes again, through His love, He will raise Carol with all the saints in a resurrection just like His, to be with Him in the new heavens and the new earth for all eternity because we have the victory of the resurrection that makes Carol, with all the saints, more than a victor—more than a conqueror—through Christ Jesus who loves her. For us, the death of someone we love may drive us to despair because death confounds us: “How could this happen? She was so young.” But Jesus confounds death, because for Jesus, the evil of death is not irreparable, as is evident in His own resurrection when He burst forth from the grave so that He might give Carol, and all His saints, a resurrection just like His. Therefore, we shall again see the brightness of her beloved eyes when she smiles and have delight at the sound of her voice when Christ returns and raises you and me with her from the dead for all eternity.

To Christ be all the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

[1] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Penguin Group, 1818, 1992), 39.

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