Death Not Ultimate
Tuesday of Easter 1
25 April 2017
The smell of death is unforgettable. Those who have survived slaughter on a battlefield or in a terror attack have remarked with a deep shudder that its odor was sickening Two Houston teenagers are in prison on murder convictions because they murdered in cold blood an acquaintance just because they had a "morbid curiosity." It is remarkable given our revulsion at the signs of death that our culture appears to be obsessed with it. We can't take our eyes off the extensive coverage of the carnage in the attacks on innocent people by terrorists. Perhaps this is due to the way we have tolerated the systematic liquidation of infants in the womb in our abortion mills. Inflicting death has become a tolerated activity, even a civil right. Those who don't have medical licenses may be wanting to get in on the action. Those revolted by the smell of death are perhaps more right than he know; maybe our whole culture is sickened.
 
Death gives off the smell of permanent decay; an early sign of the decomposition that will ensue. It slams us in the gut. We can't take our eyes off the coverage of slaughter. We are mesmerized when it peers at us with its leering, decomposing face. The face of death with its malodorous breath seems so real. We can't take our eyes off it because maybe we see our own eyes staring back at us. Yes, we too will die and share in the stench. One day we will be in the pine box awaiting our return to dust. All this is so very real.
 
For us Christians, however, it is not the ultimate reality. Death is real; a very ugly reality, but it is not ultimate. No, for us Christians life is ultimate. We have a God, who, after imposing death upon humanity to terminate our daily decay, gives life in His Son. Christ overcame the smell of decay for the Lord would not let His holy One see decay (Ps 16:10). The women who came with the aromatic spices in which to pack what they though to be His decaying remains to staunch the smell of death, were thwarted by the life that could not die. The Lord ever thwarts that smell in our cases by promising that at the ultimate He will undo death. Jesus was not done in by death when he was done to death. Death cannot hold us because it did not hold Him.
 
Only an extraordinary Spirit-given faith believes this while smelling death. Only the divine Word can give us this confidence. Only the speaking of God can overwhelm what we know and experience very well. Though dead I shall live. This is the only proof against the smell that pervades our culture, it is the aromatic spice of the Word of God in which God packs our now decaying bodies by faith; bodies to be raised in glory when the Lord of life joins body and soul again at the last trumpet. Death is real. We can smell it; just not ultimate.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
 
"In this article we are asked to believe in the resurrection of the dead, to believe that all men will be revived again on one day, that our body and soul will be united as they are united today. To believe that is surely not man's competence and power. For reason does no more than merely to observe the facts as they appear to the eye, namely, that the world has stood so long, that one person dies after another, remains dead, decomposes, and crumbles to dust in the grave, from which no one has ever returned; in addition, that man dies and perishes so miserably, worse and more wretchedly than any beast or carcass; also, that he is burned to ashes or turns to dust, with a leg resting in England, an arm in Germany, the skull in France, and is thus dismembered into a thousand pieces, as the bones of the saints are usually shown.
 
"When reason approaches this article of faith and reflects on it, it is entirely at a loss. Here so many odd, peculiar, and absurd ideas present themselves that reason must necessarily judge that there is nothing to it. It judges in the same manner as in everything else; for instance, when misfortune strikes and we permit reason to cogitate and to measure what it finds in God's Word with its own understanding. Or when man feels his sin and his conscience and fails to hold exclusively to the words of grace and forgiveness through Christ but only surveys his sin and reflects on the Law and on works and tries to scourge and torment himself with these, he surely removes himself from forgiveness and has lost the grace which he should apprehend through faith.
 
"But over against all that reason suggests or tries to fathom and explore, yes, against everything that all senses feel and comprehend, we must learn to adhere to the Word and simply to judge according to it, even though our eyes behold how man is interred, furthermore, that he decays and is consumed by worms and finally crumbles into dust. Likewise, even though I feel sin oppressing me so sorely and my conscience smiting me, so that I cannot ignore these, yet faith must conclude the opposite and hold firmly to the Word in both these instances. For if you want to judge according to what you see and feel, and if you, when God's Word is held before you, hold your feeling against that, saying: 'You are indeed telling me much, however, my heart is telling me far differently, and if you felt what I feel, you, too, would talk differently, etc.,' then you do not have God's Word in your heart; this has been suppressed and extinguished by your own ideas, reason, and reflections.
 
"In short, when you no longer accord the Word greater validity than your every feeling, your eyes, your senses, and your heart, you are doomed, and you can no longer be helped. For this is called an article of faith, not one of your reason or wisdom, nor of human power or ability. Therefore here, too, you must judge solely by the Word, regardless of what you feel or see. I, too, feel my sin and the Law and the devil on my neck. I feel myself oppressed under these as under heavy burdens. But what am I to do? If I were to judge according to my feeling and my ability, I, together with all other men, should have to perish and despair. However, if I wish to be helped, I must surely turn about and look to the Word and say accordingly: 'Indeed, I feel God's wrath, the devil, death, and hell; but the Word conveys a different message, namely, that I have a gracious God through Christ, who is my Lord over the devil and all creatures. To be sure, I feel and see that I and all other men must rot in the ground; but the Word informs me differently, namely, that I shall rise in great glory and live eternally.'"

Martin Luther, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15, 1-2
John 11:25-45

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."

And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
 
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.
 
(ESV)
Prayer

O Christ, You live that I might die to sin every day through the power of my baptism into You, grant that I might live that blessed death until sin is destroyed and I cry "Alleluia!" before Your throne. Amen.

 

For the family and friends of Robert Vaesa, who was called from this valley of sorrow, that they would grieve as those who have hope in the resurrection and the life of the world to come

 

For all those who have had their loved ones taken from them through aimless violence, that they might repose their broken hearts and disappointed hopes in the pierced hands of the Lord of life

 

For all those who are unemployed, that God our heavenly Father would endow them with a vocation suited to their gifts

 

For husbands and wives, that they might live in peace and harmony in the bonds of holy marriage

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias   Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
©  Scott Murray 2017