St. Paul is talking about resurrection, and there’s one particular thought in there that I want to highlight to you this afternoon. He talks about seeds sprouting: the plant that grows from the seed is not the same thing as the seed was; it may produce seeds, but that’s something different. When we speak of seeds growing, we don’t usually mean that they’re expanding and becoming larger seeds. We mean that they’re not seeds anymore, that the potential of what was inside has been released. Paul brings this image to mind as he talks about resurrection.
What he means is this: that the seed must die to being a seed, die to its seed-ness, if what it’s meant for is to be realized. Paul says that this is how it is with humans also. When we leave this life – this mortal flesh – we realize what God has had for us, we come to know it in actuality – no longer just in hope. One person put it like this: that the souls of God’s redeemed, like the bird in the egg, still grow – or ripen – in grace, till at last the shell breaks open by death, and the soul flies away to the place it is prepared for, and where it abides forever.
It’s been described that in Jesus humanity is capable of three births: by nature, we enter into the present world; by God’s grace, we may enter into spiritual light and life; by death, we may enter into God’s glory. Now, there is some church-y language in there that I’ll decode for you – soul, glory, salvation, Jesus, redeemed – this, then, is the hope of the Christian, the reason Christians can face the reality of mortality without fear:
Jesus, the Son of God, suffered to prepare freedom from suffering for those who trust in Him; He descended from heaven that He might raise us up; He took on Himself the trial of being born, that we might love Him; He came down to corruption that corruption might put on immortality; He became weak for us, that we might rise with power; He descended to death that He might bestow on us immortality, and give life to the dead. Finally, He became man, that we who die as men might live again, and that death should no more reign over us; for His Word proclaims, “Death shall not have dominion over us.”
And so, you see, for Christians death is not a blind alleyway, but a thoroughfare into the Father’s House, of many rooms. Death is not a box canyon with only one way in and no way out. Death is a pass through the mountains into the beautiful green valley of eternal fellowship with the Lord and with loved ones gone before.
And so while we make jokes about heaven’s distance, like the one about the Baptist Church that had a direct phone line to heaven for $1 a call, the Lutheran Church that had the same set up for only 25 cents, and the Anglican Church that had the same for free – because it’s a local call from here; while we make jokes about heaven’s distance, it is within speaking distance to those who belong there – to ALL those who belong there.
So, with regard to my friend of these last four years, Tillie, who out-danced some of you nine years ago, at her 90th birthday celebration; who loved family & friends deeply, and always shared news – a number of names that I’ve heard so much about I can now put with faces; who enjoyed reminiscing about her travels; with regard to my friend Tillie, who was so fashionable, so dedicated, and so capable for so long, I am not concerned. Her hope in Jesus – in whom she trusted in this life – is realized now in eternity. Take comfort, then, in God’s promises. Know that she rests in Him.
But we are not just here for comfort about Tillie’s destination, today. We are here for comfort in our own situation, also. God made us to be. Ninety-nine years seems like such a long time – but no amount of time is ever enough, is it? The hard thing isn’t that she’s gone to be with the Lord, but that she’s away from us. The turns of phrase that she used, we won’t hear her use them anymore; the care she took to correspond, it won’t be taken. The hard thing isn’t that she’s gone, but that we’re still here without her.
Don’t deny what you’re feeling, neither indulge in it. But thank God for the time that you had with her, entrust her to His keeping, and carry her memory with you. When something appears that reminds you of her, thank God for her influence in your life, entrust her to His keeping, and carry her memory with you.
There will also be times when, thinking of Tillie, you will be reminded that you, too, are mortal. Don’t deny it, or try to cover it up or pretend that it’s not the case. But embracing your mortality, look to the future life – life beyond the grave – and be mindful of who you trust in, now. Do you build your life on the rock of Christ Jesus, or some other foundation you’ve managed to lay – some other foundation as temporal, passing, mortal, as this life is? Jesus invites us all to place our trust in Him.
And that doesn’t have to mean a huge change in “what” you do, but rather in who you do it for; giving one’s life to Jesus, trusting in Him, is not so much a matter of “what” as it is of “why.” One day St. Francis was hoeing in his garden when a friend said to him, “What would you do if you knew you would die at sunset?” He replied, “I would finish hoeing my garden.” And so let me extend Jesus’ invitation to a new reason for living, to you, today. Let us pray:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who, in your perfect wisdom and mercy, has ended for your departed servants the voyage of this troublesome life, grant, we ask you, that we who are still to continue our course amidst earthly dangers, temptations and troubles may evermore be protected by your mercy, and finally come to the haven of eternal salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.