When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them,“Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. [Matthew 9:23-24]
In the Name + of Jesus alone. Amen. Brian, Brenda, and Willie, Bruce’s grandchildren who are here today (and to the one we eagerly await), to Betty, Lucas, and Bruce’s other relatives and many friends, do you understand what these words mean? “The girl is not dead, but sleeping.” It means: Where Jesus is, there death has lost its terrors. It is changed to sleep. And when sleep is over, the victim of death rises and lives.
So, friends, let me say to you now, “The man is not dead, but sleeps.” I know, Bruce is dead. He is truly dead. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. There is no doubt, death has again overcome the life of one of your family and gained the victory. Bruce was dear to your heart, and he had become like the sun, that you expect to be there when you awake in the morning. When he was taken by cancer, your heart trembled, and you did what you could. You called the doctors, you sent him to the hospital, you were not afraid of expenses. You brought him into your house, to sit at his bedside to watch the cancer develop. And in his last weeks we called upon the Lord and asked Him to remember Bruce, to remember His baptismal promises, to remember Bruce’s confirmation vows those many years ago, to let His Word penetrate past the medication and the pain, past flesh and bone, to latch on to Bruce’s soul that he might enter into eternal life through the Lord’s joy and peace. And the Lord heard our prayers and took Bruce from us, and he now sits before us in dust and ashes. And we surround him with tears in our eyes and sorrow and pain in the heart.
Do I then have the right to say, “He is not dead, he is asleep”? I do have the right and the courage to say so in this sad hour, because I know, Jesus is living, and because He lives and rules, death, Bruce’s death too, is changed into sleep.
It is true, what was flesh, what was mortal about Bruce, is dust and ashes, but meanwhile his soul lives in communion with God.
By Baptism Bruce was made a child of God. He was clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that covered all his sin. Bruce died to come into closer communion with God. And, yes, life is full of temptations, and we know Bruce did not overcome all of them, and he did not always remain faithful to our Lord. But, now, we live in hope that he is removed from all temptations into a place of everlasting safety and security. Life is full of wounds and sickness and pain. By his death he has overcome them all, and, we pray always, Jesus his Savior, holds him in His own keeping and fills his heart with everlasting joy.
What is better and safer and more filled with joy? The life on this earth or the life in heaven, in the arms of Jesus? He is not dead, but sleeps. At the end, at the Last Day, Jesus will come in glory. And as He came and stood at the bedside of Jairus’ daughter, so He will stand at our graves, Bruce’s grave not excepted, and will speak with a loud voice: “Arise.” And the graves will open themselves and all bodies that slept in Him will rise, united with their souls they will look around, until their eye finds Jesus. The sleep is over, the night is gone, the day has come, the day of never-ceasing life and untold happiness. For where Jesus is, there death is changed to life.
Do not weep. Yes, weep, but not like those who are without hope. Fix your eyes upon your Savior, fix them upon Jesus. He is the Victor over grave and death. He alone, without doubt. He says Himself, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, he that believes in Me, though he die, yet will he live, and whoever lives and believes in me, will never die.”
Cling to these words. No man can know, or feel, or earn his salvation. He can only believe it. Sound mind or not, sound body or broken, all we are given and all we receive is God’s promise that in Baptism everything else is already done, for Bruce and for all of you. Your death is the one “purse that will never wear out,” the true “treasure in heaven that will never decrease.” Despite what you may gather and save for yourselves in this life, despite what you may make of yourself and what is taken from you, you are rich only on account of your Baptism into Christ. Believe this and everything else may be sold [Luke 12:33].
Then, too, your death can be appraised rightly, as the only thing the world cannot take away from you. The people, places, memories, and possessions on which your heart finds rest can be removed, but when your heart is resting upon God’s promise that works even into your death then you will enjoy the sleep of the blessed saints in Christ.
The amazing graciousness of God that you will never lack, the one thing no one will ever want to beg, borrow, or steal from you is the one thing any of you will ever need. It is your death. The drowning death which God once began at Baptism, continues every day, come what may, and concludes at your birth into eternal life, when you are taken by death, safe from this sinful world and yourselves, and perfectly prepared for the peace and joy of everlasting life with Jesus.
Just as in your first birth into this world you did nothing, at your second birth, at your death, you do nothing either. You simply enjoy the victory Christ Jesus has won for you over the sinful, deathly, hellish things that so often try dragging you away from your true Father and heavenly home, but cannot.
By Jesus’ death in our name, and by our death in His Name, we have overcome the world. In God’s baptismal promise Bruce and all of you can rest, not in your heart’s desires, which fade, wither, and wear out over time, but upon the grace of God which works entirely by raising the dead. Rest upon the safety and security of God’s abundant, unbreakable promise that, “We were buried … with Him by baptism into death, in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” [Romans 6:3-5].
The man is not dead, he is asleep in Christ. Amen.