Death and Life
This All Saints Sunday Sermon was presented on Sunday, November 6, 2016 at Trinity and St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Churches by Pastor Jim Kniseley.
Dear Friends in Christ,
This is the day of all days in the church year in which we recognize the closeness of heaven and earth. Our loved ones, all the saints who have gone before us, are here in our minds and hearts. I have no doubt that they really do know exactly what we are doing on this day. I have an image in my mind that comes from the movie Places in the Heart with Sally Fields. Several deaths have occurred throughout the movie. The last scene is at worship in a small church and they are receiving Holy Communion in their seats. The trays of bread and grape juice are being passed from one to the other and it begins to dawn on you that the loved ones who have died are sitting right there in the pews doing the passing and receiving right along with the living.
That’s the sense I have this day of what All Saints Sunday is all about.
We Christians have an understanding about death that is special and unique. We see that death is the gateway from this life to the next. The only way to eternal life and heaven is through that gate.
The idea of death being a punishment and something to be feared certainly was introduced in the Old Testament in the Book of Genesis. Death, not living on this earth forever, was the punishment for disobeying God’s command to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
What about life after death in the Old Testament? Actually the Old Testament has little to say about the state of those who have died. Generally the dead were thought to exist in Sheol in some shadowy form, and Sheol is generally described as under the earth.
Our New Testament is much more helpful in explaining what happens after death. A key concept is that a person can be alive in the biological sense (breathing and going about one’s every day activities) and still be dead in their sin and incapable of reviving oneself. When we do die biologically we indeed are instantly in heaven before Jesus, the Judge. We already know that Jesus loves us and wants the very best for us.
The apostle Paul calls death “the last enemy” (I Cor. 15:26). He also says “to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21-24) because it means being with Christ.
Paul says Jesus’s death itself destroyed death (2 Tim. 1:10). The life that Jesus offers –eternal life- is available to all believers in the present (John 3:36; 5:24). In other words, our eternal life begins here on this earth in our present life.
Jesus says that all who believe in him will live even though they die (John 11:25-29).
Today the Trinity Choir is singing “All is Well”. It originally was written in the 1840’s. I’m most interested in the words which come so close to the New Testament idea of thinking of death as a person. What’s this that steals upon my frame, is it death?…if this be death, I soon shall be from every pain and sorrow free. I shall soon see the King of Glory. Death here is presented in a positive way of going from the hardships of earthly existence to meeting Jesus in heaven.
The song ends this way: Bright angels are from glory come, They’re round my bed, They’re in my room. They waft to see my spirit home. All is well! The idea of being accompanied by angels to meet Jesus is really comforting.
A movie was made in 1934 called “Death Takes a Holiday”. Here’s the story line: After years of questioning why people fear him, Death takes on a human form (Frederic March) for 3 days so he can mingle among mortals and find an answer. However, events spiral out of control when Death falls in love with the beautiful young Grazia (Evelyn Venable). Death must decide whether to seek his own happiness and take Grazia with him, or sacrifice his happiness so that Grazia may live.
The remake of this movie was done in 1988, called “Meet Joe Black” and starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins.
I have a connection to the 1934 movie! In 1970 at UCLA I took classical Greek and my teacher was Mrs. Mohr. Mrs. Mohr’s maiden name was Evelyn Venable and she was the beautiful young Grazia in “Death Takes a Holiday”. I read that she died in 1993 at the age of 80.
Many of you loved ones are buried in this congregation’s cemetery. Each time a body has been interred, the pastor prayed and the words are important as expressions of hope in the promises of Jesus Christ. Here are the words of the prayer for committal that are in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship Book:
Holy God, holy and powerful, by the death and burial of Jesus your anointed,
you have destroyed the power of death and made holy the resting places of all
your people. Keep our loved one, whose body we now lay to rest, in
the company of all your saints. And at the last, O God, raise them up to
share with all the faithful the endless joy and peace won through the glorious
resurrection of Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
This day may God help you not to fear death, to live in the certain hope of eternal life, and look forward to being greeted in heaven by all the saints who have gone before us.