Posted on September 25th, 2015
Dear Carla, Henry and Harry, parents and friends of Roy, brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Can we blame Martha and Mary for being angry with Jesus (John 11)? Their brother Lazarus is dead, and Jesus—supposedly their close friend—was nowhere to be found. He even misses the funeral! By the time Jesus shows up, Lazarus is buried.
When Jesus arrives, Martha comes out to meet Him, but Mary stays in the house. She won’t even talk to Jesus. But Martha levels her accusation: Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You know how she feels.
Eventually Mary comes out, and she says the same thing: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus doesn’t argue with her. He doesn’t explain that He was busy. What does He do? “Jesus wept.” Your Lord knows what you feel. He joins you in your suffering. He enters into your suffering.
Make no mistake: death is terrible. We could say that the death of a husband and father, at this point in his life, is not normal, not natural – but that is not saying nearly enough. Death itself is not normal, not natural – it is not how God made us, it is not how God made the world.
So Jesus doesn’t just come in today’s Gospel to the grave of Lazarus. Jesus comes to this coffin, Jesus looks at your loss of a husband, father, son, and He weeps. This is wrong.
To you, Henry and Harry, is given Psalm 27 to pray: “My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.” David writes this Psalm as he is being attacked in war. Enemy soldiers surround him, and he is afraid. He thinks of his parents, but they are gone. This Psalm has long been a favorite of mine, and I hope you will take it up as your own. I find strength and comfort in David’s confidence as he faces a terrible trial. Everybody has turned against him, an army is coming after him, and both of his parents are dead. What he is feeling now is that God must be angry with him, God must have turned away from him. He is afraid. You can hear him trembling, yet still confident: “My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” And the answer is, “No one.”
Perhaps the best thing you can do, Henry and Harry, is to take up your dad’s Confirmation Verse as a promise to you. The Lord Jesus said to the whole Church in Rev. 3:11, and to your father: “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” It seems as though your dad’s death was not at the right time. There is no right time, but the famous cantata of Bach teaches us an important lesson: “God’s time is the very best time.” Your dad held on to what he had to the end, and the Lord promises to share with him his own crown of life.
Carla, Henry, Harry, your husband and father did a noble and honorable thing by serving his country. The flag we saw on his casket signifies that. The white cloth on the casket tells us not about what Roy did for his country, but what Jesus did for Roy. The white cloth, marked with a cross, tells us that Roy is now a citizen of heaven. We are born citizens of our country, but then Baptism makes us citizens of the far country, the Kingdom of God.
And so what remains? You have to go on with your life. Perhaps God will give you many decades – or your last hour may be drawing near very soon. In either case, the days fly by, and very soon they are gone. The holy prophet Job suffered terribly with a skin disease – for whom the Lord loves, He chastens. God shapes us and teaches us not through success but through suffering. When we are brought to nothing, then we see God work through resurrection and new life.
So Job was suffering, His body covered with sores, His skin wasting away. Sound familiar? But Job saw ahead to what was coming. “I know that my Redeemer lives!” he cried; and “After my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold.”
That’s God’s promise to your husband, dad, son. He believed it. You believe it too. For Jesus can do it, has done it, and will do it. Jesus weeps with you. Jesus dies for you and with you. Jesus is risen from the dead. Wait on Him. Resurrection is coming.