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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
A Christian funeral is a worship service where the focus is on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But it’s also fitting to speak of the faith God gave to the deceased and of the ways that faith was exhibited.
For over 97 years, Angie has been a child of God. As a baby, she was baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at St. Leo Catholic Church in Pipestone. She publicly confessed her Christian faith at St. James Lutheran Church in Holland in 1947. Angie was a charter member (along with her husband Adrian) of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Pipestone when it formed in 1955. Attending worship services and Bible study and sharing her Christian faith with the church community brought her great peace. It was her delight to serve in the church to the best of her ability.
I asked her children if they had any memories about their mother that might be fitting to mention.
Linda texted me: “Mom gave me not only physical life, more importantly she gave me spiritual life by ensuring I was baptized and regularly worshipped God and received Christian instruction. She was a wonderful example of Christian service, steadfastly caring for all family members with love and opening her home to us as we needed.”
Gary talked about coming over to his mom’s place for coffee and seeing how she had spread out several Bibles, including her NIV self-study Bible with notes, for her own Bible study.
I remember that Angie came to Wednesday morning Bible study as I began serving the vacancy at Our Saviour’s six years ago. Just a few weeks ago, Angie came for Holy Communion and our Acts Bible study at Ridge View.
During Angie’s stay in hospice, I tried to stop in to see her every day. Each time I would read to her (and her family) from Scripture, usually including a passage focusing on the resurrection on the Last Day. You see, heaven is great and all. The souls of those like Angie who die in the faith are with the Lord in paradise. But there is one more important step in the restoration of creation—the resurrection of the bodies of all believers. When the Lord returns on the Last Day, the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall all be changed. Then we will be restored, renewed—body and soul—to eternal life in the new heaven and new earth. Then the perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal body will put on immortality. Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
Don’t get me wrong. Dying and going to heaven, leaving this corrupt creation behind, leaving our sin-wracked bodies behind, and our souls going to be with Christ is a good thing. It is what many people normally refer to when they use the word “heaven,” as in “dying and going to heaven.” But the Lord has something even better in mind for His saints. Our ultimate Christian hope is centered in the promise that Jesus will return in glory to this creation, and that He will set the creation free from its bondage to decay to enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8).
This is the hope of the Creeds, and Catechisms, that proclaims that “on the Last Day Christ will raise up me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers” (SC Apostles’ Creed, Third Article). As Christians, we yearn for the resurrection of the body and life eternal in the new heavens and new earth—the time when we will be “perfectly pure and holy people…free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body” (LC II 58).
On the Last Day, when Christ returns and raises us from the dead, Angie and all who have died in the faith, will be raised to enjoy being with Christ in His new creation, in body and soul, forever.
Angie believed in this bodily resurrection. It gave her great hope throughout life, but especially as she faced the loss of loved ones and her own physical death.
Our reading from John 6:35-40, focuses on this resurrection of the body on the Last Day:
Jesus said to them, “I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given Me, but raise it up on the Last Day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day” (John 6:35–40).
A major theme in John’s Gospel is how Jesus came to give life, especially eternal life. You see this promise throughout the book, but in this passage Jesus says more. Two different times (verses 39, 40), He explicitly promises to raise His people on the Last Day. This promise of resurrection is central to the Christian faith. As we confess in the Nicene Creed, the goal of the Christian life is the resurrection of the dead and life in the world to come.
This reading invites us to address a few foundational questions about the nature of this resurrection.
From what will Jesus raise?
The short answer is death. But this is more than the moment our hearts stop beating. Ever since the Fall, death has cast its shadow over every aspect of life in this world. Our relationships, our intellects, our communities, our bodies, our emotion, our wills—nothing is exempt. The entire human existence has been darkened by self-inflicted death and despair.
The truth is that while God kindly allows seasons of human flourishing and joy, life on this side of Jesus’ return is always burdened by death and decay. We are victims, to be sure. But we are also guilty of turning away from God in toward ourselves. In this sense, Jesus promises to raise us from ourselves.
To what will Jesus raise?
A full, physical, bodily resurrection. Jesus is not explicit in these verses, but the Scriptures are clear that Jesus promises more than a disembodied “spiritual” existence after death. He has promised to raise our perishable, mortal bodies to immortality.
Whom will Jesus raise?
Jesus will raise you. In this text and the verses following, Jesus answers this question three different times in three different ways. First, in verse 40, Jesus promises to raise all who come to Him and believe in Him. Resurrection by faith, we might say.
But lest we think of faith as our responsibility, Jesus gives a second answer in verse 44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the Last Day.” The theology here is important. All are called to come to Jesus. All are commanded to believe in Him. But when we do, it is always the work of the Father.
This leads to His third answer. In verse 54, Jesus puts it like this: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the Last Day” (John 6:54). Those who believe in Jesus also believe what He says about His body and blood. While this text may not explicitly refer to the Lord’s Supper, it is hard to miss the connection for Christians who have witnessed Jesus’ passion and resurrection.
When will Jesus raise?
Each time Jesus mentions raising in John 6, He is clear about when this will happen: “on the Last Day.” That is when He will, “raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life” (Luther’s explanation of the Third Article). Christians always live with the end in view.
But this changes how we live now, too. We live as “people ahead of time” (Richard John Neuhaus in Freedom for Ministry). Raised already in our baptism (Romans 6:1-4), we walk in newness of life here and now even as we await the promised resurrection on the Last Day. We live in loving service to our neighbor, beginning in our own families, and extending to our church family and community. And on days like this, when we lay a loved one to rest, we mourn their loss, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We know that Angie, like all the other saints who have died in the Lord, has gone to be in the presence of the Lord. She is at rest from all her labors and awaits the Day of Resurrection, when she will be raised, body and soul, to eternal life in the new heaven and earth promised by our Lord. We pray that we all would join her in that glorious Day. Amen
The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen