February 2, 2020, Peace That Defies Death, Luke 2:22-40 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000176
When we were young, we, or at least a lot of us, I think, felt like we were pretty much indestructible. Some of us did stupid, foolhardy things and took risks that turned our poor mothers’ hair gray. Many of us treated our bodies and the precious gift of our lives with reckless abandon. But year by year we find ourselves carrying the growing weight of our life experiences. We suffer the pains of illnesses and injuries, our own and others. We live with our fears of more terrible things that might be. And sooner or later none of us can escape knowing the loss of people who are dear to us, people we love, people we have depended on. The older we get, the more pressing is the reality that we won’t be in this body, in this world, forever. Eventually we all come face to face with the fact of death.
Our world is so full of death that there is a multitude of books and articles out there, that claim to help people deal with death. There are whole sections in children’s libraries and bookstores that try to help children see that death is a natural part of life, so that they won’t be crushed by the grief of losing a parent or a friend, because unfortunately even little children are not immune from loss. Some of these books are helpful, and it is always a good thing to bring comfort to people, but a lot of the authors of these books don’t actually know where real comfort is to be found. And one of the main problems is that a lot of these books try to find comfort in portraying death as a beautiful and natural part of the wonderful process of life, as if death were our friend and not our enemy.
But the truth is that death is not natural, and death is certainly not our friend. The grief and anger and bewilderment that we feel in the face of death – those are natural feelings, because we know in our hearts that we were created for life, and that it is death that is unnatural, an abomination. And that is why, on the day that Simeon walked into the Temple in Jerusalem and reached out for the infant Jesus, his heart sang with joy to know that the little body he held in his arms, the little hand that clasped his finger, and the small cry he heard, here at last was the redemption that he had longed for his whole life – and not only him, but the whole people of Israel for generations, and not only the people of Israel, but the whole human race, ever since the blood of Abel cried out to the Lord from the ground.
Now, Simeon prayed to his God as he held the little child, now you can let your servant depart in peace, because the long, unnatural tyranny of sin and death is coming to an end. He knew in the power of the Spirit, and he believed in the depths of his heart, that his death no longer held any terror for him, because at long last God himself had come in the flesh to share the whole experience of the human race that he created and that he loved, so that we could all partake of his abundant and indestructible life.
We read in the letter to the Hebrews today, “Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” That means that in order to set us all free from the brokenness of sin, Jesus came to share the whole experience of our broken life, from the pain and blood of birth to the fear and agony of death, and everything that lies in between – illness and temptation and joy and sorrow and loss and fear and love and pain – because, as the writer says, “he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect.” God loved us, literally as his own flesh; he loved us so much that he chose to partake completely of the whole messy uncomfortable thing that we call life, except that he did not sin.
This is the glorious good news Simeon saw with his own eyes on that day in the Temple: The real, live little baby who was presented by Mary and Joseph in the Temple, and who lay warm and real in Simeon’s arms, was truly the eternal God, who had come to share the life of his beloved children. And because he shared our broken life, we now share his perfect and abundant life. Now, whether in life or in death, we are safe in the arms of our Father. Because the Son of God emptied himself out of his great love for us, the losses that we suffer and grieve for in this life, as real and as terrible and as painful as they are now – and sometimes they are very terrible – but they are not forever, and they will not defeat us. Because we have the promise that our old enemy, death, has been vanquished, and even though death still has the power to separate us from those we love for a little time, the day is surely coming when we will all be together, alive and well, in the presence of God.
And that’s why we always begin our funeral service as we did yesterday, with an anthem that affirms the power of life. We don’t come to make peace with death; we come to claim the peace we have in Christ, who rose from the dead. Like Simeon, we defy death to have the last word, as we pray:
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.
For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.
Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labors.