Dead Man Standing

Since then, these “exotic wakes” have been catching on. There’s been the dead man who was posed on his motorcycle, the boxer ready for a fight, and the grandma sitting on her favorite rocking chair. Some consider the practice a work of art. For others, it borders on the distasteful. For me, it serves to illustrate a very common human response to the inevitable reality of our death: to lie to ourselves.

At the end of the day, the “dead man standing” funeral is based on a LIE. The family can pretend that their loved one is still alive, but after the wake is over, the “dead man standing” still ends up in a coffin, lying down.  Don’t get me wrong, you can understand the motivation behind the lie. No one wants to say goodbye to a loved one. No one! But no matter what you do to make a dead personlook alive, the TRUTH is that he’s dead. 

Apart from Christ, we are all “dead men standing.” Because of our rebellion against God and His holy will, we are born to die. Apart from Christ, we are dead in our trespasses and sins, and there is nothing we can do about it. We can try to prolong our lives with lots of exercise and watching what we eat. We can spend lots of money to cover up our wrinkles and the evidence of our bodies wasting away. We can convince ourselves with the lie that as long as we are healthy, there is hope. 

That was the royal officer’s approach in John 4, when his son becomes deathly ill. He begs Jesus to bring his son back to health, convinced that if there is no health, there is no hope. But the truth was that his son was already as good as dead. Even if Jesus were to heal him of his physical ailment, he would eventually get sick again and die, because the wages of sin is death. The wages of sin is always death, regardless of our futile attempts to convince ourselves otherwise. Sooner or later, the son would end up – like every last one of us- in a tomb, lying down. 

What the royal official son needs is much more than to be restored to physical health. What he really needs is salvation. What every “dead man standing” really needs is not just to be restored to good health, but to be restored to our Father in Heaven, to be reconciled. Physical health is a good and gracious gift from God, but it is not what makes us alive. What we really need to be made alive again. To be recreated. To have the effects of our sin reversed. To be born again.

Jesus says to him: Go, your son lives.

And at the exact moment that Jesus spoke these words, the nobleman’s son was healed. Jesus, through whom all things were made; Jesus, the creative Word of God in human flesh, recreates the royal official’s son. Jesus, through whom God had said, “let there be light” and there was light, says “there is life,” and life there is.

[And] the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 

Upon hearing the words of Jesus, the man goes on his way, without knowing what awaits him. There is still a chance he’ll make it home and discover that his son has not been healed. It’s entirely possible that the son dies during the man’s 24-hour journey from Cana to Capernaum. But that didn’t matter so much anymore. He had heard the Word of God. He had heard the promise of Jesus. Even if he comes home and finds his dear son lying dead, he has the promise that his son lives. He has the promise that even if he’s dead, he lives.

The official no longer needed the type of miracles he had come looking for.  Hearing the Word of Jesus was enough. And the good news is, His Word is enough for us, as well. 

Last week the Church observed All Saint’s Day. We thanked God for His faithfulness and mercy to our loved ones who have already come out of the great tribulation and are now praising God and the lamb in gratitude for their salvation. For many, it’s a difficult day because nobody wants to say good-bye to their loved ones. Last week was the most difficult All Saint’s Day I’ve ever had, because it was the first one since my 19-year-old sister went to be with her Lord just a couple of months ago. 

The good news is that we don’t have to pretend our loved ones are still alive. Our Festival of All Saints is not based on wishful thinking about life after death. No, our hope of the resurrection and our reunion with our loved is based on the life-giving, re-creating, forgiving Word of Jesus, which is more than enough. 

We are on the same path as the official, between Cana and Capernuam (this insight is from Pastor David Petersen). We, too, are on our way home and cannot see our loved ones with our eyes. But when Jesus says there is life, life there is. And the creative and forgiving word of Jesus is enough.

One of our members receiving her life that never ends. Photo: Johanna Heidorn.

I was there the day Jesus spoke this creative word to my sister, forgiving her sins, making her a new creation, giving her a life that never ends. And I heard God put his name on her, claiming her as his own, “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”.  And that’s enough. I can continue my journey home, trusting in Jesus’ promise that my sister lives, even though she died. 

And that creative Word is sufficient for you too, dear brother and sister in Christ! Even though you were born dead in your sins and trespasses, because of His great love for you, Christ has spoken his word of eternal life to you. In your Baptism, he has recreated you, given you a new life that never ends. He has promised you that even though you die, you live. May this truth, may this promise of Christ bring you eternal comfort, the same way this hymn did me at my sister’s funeral:  

Death, you cannot end my gladness’ I am baptized into Christ. When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise! Though I lie in dust and ashes, faith’s assurance brightly flashes: Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine. (LSB 594:4)

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