Tuesday, November 15, 2016

When death is not death...


Deadfalls and Snares is a book in the public
domain about trapping animals by Arthur Robert
Harding, who is deceased and has not approved the use
of this book cover alongside this material.  It is being
used only as a reference to illustrate how death comes
upon us unexpectedly and rather unwillingly.  Unlike
these animals, however, we as people have hope.
MARTIN LUTHER'S hymn Mitten wir im Leben sind says it all:  In the very midst of life snares of death surround us.  In Luther's view, no matter your age, you are a walking corpse.  Luther preferred the term "maggot sack" to describe his earthly body.  Every day was another step closer to the grave where the maggots would eat his flesh.  Every step closer to the grave is also a step closer to resurrection from the grave.  For the Christian, the grave is little more than a bed.  You close your eyes in temporal death, and the next thing you know, you live.  You are a new creation, made whole in Jesus Christ the firstborn from the dead.

Two women are tangled in the snares of death.  One alive and the other dead -- both in need of the touch of Jesus.  The hymn agrees, Thou only, LORD, thou only.

The woman alive suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years.  Twelve years is enough time to be hopeless about a cure.  She decides one option remains.  If I only touch His garment, I will be made well.  How did she know that merely touching Jesus' tunic would cure her illness?  Somehow, somewhere, she heard of Jesus and believed He could heal her ailment.

She wasn't sure what to expect.  She wasn't certain how He would react.  Maybe she should just talk to Him; stop Him on the street and simply ask Him, Have mercy on me!  The word on the street spoke of others who simply approached Jesus and asked:  a leper, a centurion for his servant, Peter's mother-in-law, two demon-possessed men, a paralytic and many others  (Matthew 8-9), but no, it was too risky to talk to Him, too embarrassing to publicly describe her problem.  She'd keep to her plan, just a touch, and in the crowded streets with all the bumping and pushing, He would never know, and if He did, then what had she to lose?  Her way shows that no matter how you approach our Lord, He is able to help.  Jesus knows exactly what she wants.  She need not ask.  He turns to her after she touches His garment and says take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.  Yes, always and only it is Spirit inspired faith that breaks the snares.  Faith led her to touch His garment.  Faith in Christ, the Divine Healer of every disease, both in body and in soul, is her hope as the snares of death surround her.

Clearly Jesus welcomed her interruption as He walked to the ruler's house.  God's only-begotten Son became Man in order to be the perfect interruption for sinners caught in the snares of death that surround us.

Jesus is our only hope when facing death.  The first words out of Christ's mouth when He arrives at the ruler's house dispense with the snares of death surrounding the death scene.  And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, He said, "Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping."  Who would tell mourners at a funeral to leave because the girl whom they mourn is not dead?  Only Jesus could say such a thing and mean it.  The mourners laughed at Him, but Jesus gets the last laugh.

He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.  Here we see a preview of Judgment Day when Jesus will speak to His beloved children who have fallen asleep in the sleep of death and speak them awake.  This incident and all other instances of resurrection in Holy Scripture make fools laugh.  There is no way that something as dead as a ruler's daughter or as dead as Lazarus, can stand up and live, but they do live:  one with the grasp of a hand, and the other with a word spoken from outside the tomb.

Saint Paul prays for and exhorts the Colossians to [Give] thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  Both women in the Gospel reading are qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  Both will live again in the resurrection.  Both are partakers of the inheritance promised for them from the foundation of the world.  This is their hope because of Jesus Christ.  Paul's prayer and exhortation are for you also!

Though the snares of death surround you, the prayers of you who the Father has qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in light -- whether they are for big or small or even impossible things -- are no bother to Our Lord.  Don't pull this Mid-West pious Lutheran gambit.  Don't try to protect God from your feelings.  Don't act all shy and self-conscious.  That is an insult to God.  Prayer is an act of intimacy.  To hold back, to holdout on God, is an indication that you don't trust Him.  If you won't bring all your cares and concerns to God, it means that you think He will laugh at you or won't care or will think you are foolish. Either that or you don't think He has the power to answer.  God desires that you open your heart to Him in prayer, to lay yourself vulnerable.

Why won't you trust Him?  REPENT.  Do not be afraid.  He loves you.  He loves your prayers.  He is not shocked by them.  He is your Father who shows compassion to His children (Psalm 103).

This is your hope as well because of Jesus Christ.  There is no guarantee that He will walk into your bedroom, take you by the hand, and heal you or your loved one from death.  He is not present in the way that He was then in order for you to touch His garment and live.  Nevertheless, there is hope when the snares of death surround us because of Jesus Christ.  He will wake you up from the sleep of death on Judgment Day.  He will wake you up and change your body into a body like His.  You will wake up as you wake up from a lazy afternoon nap -- refreshed, alert, and renewed.

This hope is yours now, but not yet accomplished.  The consummation of all things remains in God's hand.  In the meantime, we have a foretaste of the feast to come in the Divine Service.  Eating and drinking His true Body and true Blood prepares us for the never-ending Supper in Paradise where the lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world is face-to-face with His children, His redeemed.

There is also a connection in the touching.  Jairus asked Our Lord to lay His hands upon the girl, but instead Our Lord took her hand, as though she was laying hands on Him.  The woman with the discharge reached out her hand and grasped Our Lord's garment.

Faith is the hand that grasps grace.  The woman had faith.  She recognized that Our Lord could do what the physicians could not.  That faith saved her  The girl had faith also, but in her case, Our Lord slipped His hand under hers in order to bestow it.  She was dead, so He gave her the hand, the grasp, that grasped Him, and called her back from death.

That is how it always is with faith.  It seeks the risen, living, bodily Christ because it has been bestowed and is maintained by the Holy Spirit who always bears witness to and of Christ.  That is why we come to the Holy Supper.  We are not here to simply think about Jesus.  We are here to be touched by Him, to be healed, saved, and raised.  This touch is not a metaphor.    It is real and physical, even as He is real and physical.  He did not rise as a ghost.  He is flesh and blood, alive from the grave.  He comes to us not as an idea, but as a Body crucified and risen.

"If only His Body is placed upon my tongue, I shall be made well," says the Christian.  "Take heart, daughter.  Rise, damsel," says the Lord.  "Take, eat.  Take, drink.  Your faith has saved you."

The reality of death for a baptized Christian is that the grave is a bed, and our rest there is a nap.  The reality of illness for a baptized Christian is that full healing comes in Jesus Christ, Who will make our lowly bodies into glorious bodies.  The prayer of today's Chief Hymn is answered with an emphatic "Yes" and "Amen" in Jesus Christ.  He will not leave us to the bitter pains of death.  He comforts us in every need with the sure and certain hope of full healing and resurrection.  Believe it for Jesus' sake and pray...

Teach me to live, that I may dread
the grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die, that so I may
rise glorious at the awe-full day.

~Rev. Fyler

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