Sermon delivered at the funeral of Baby D, Sunday, November 8, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
Lectionary texts: Revelation 21.1-7; Psalm 23; 1 John 3.1-3; John 11.17-27.
In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I come to you this afternoon, not to eulogize baby Daniel—none of us got the chance to know him so eulogies are not possible—but to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead. It is the only loving and merciful thing I can do for his grieving parents and family. Why? Because only Christ can and will restore the dead to new life. If we are to have true balm for our grieving hearts, we must know Death does not have the final word in life.
Death under any circumstance is hard, isn’t it? But it is especially hard when we are confronted by a miscarriage like Daniel’s. We grieve that he never got to see the light of day or to experience the joys and sorrows of growing into manhood and navigating the fickleness and changeability of life. Babies are not supposed to die in their mother’s wombs. Parents are not supposed to grieve their children’s death. Older siblings are not supposed to grieve for their younger siblings. None of this is God’s will for us. But here we are, doing just that. There is no good way we can spin this, nor should we try. His death is just wrong. There is no justice to be found in it, no goodness. The tragic circumstances of Daniel’s death have the power to make us angry and indignant in our grief, the way Jesus was when he snorted at his friend Lazarus’ tomb just before he raised him to life (Jn 11.38) because death is our ultimate enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor 15.26). And like Martha in today’s gospel lesson we want to cry out to God in desperation and despair and demand why God let this awful thing happen.
But if you paid attention to our gospel lesson, you heard Jesus talk about a breathtaking promise as he gave Martha and us an ultimately more satisfactory answer to her “why” question about Evil and Death. Jesus did not answer her question directly. Instead, echoing Psalm 23, he acknowledged that while Evil and Death still exist in God’s good but fallen world, he had come to destroy their power over us in and through his death and resurrection. He had come to fulfill Isaiah’s gracious prophecy: “[H]e was pierced for our transgressions…and by his wounds we are healed” (Is 53.5). Ponder this promise of healing and life as you keep in mind the image of Jesus, God become human, snorting in anger and indignation over the death of his friend. As you do, the Spirit will surely help you see God’s will and intention about Death as well as the tender mercy and love God the Father has for us his children and the future he has prepared for us, especially Daniel, even as we must live with the paradox and enigma of the darkness of this present age.
That is why Christian funerals are so important. They serve to remind us that for those who are in Christ—and let us be clear and bold in our proclamation about God’s power and declare that even in the womb, we know Daniel knew Jesus because we believe with the psalmist that there is nowhere we can can escape God’s presence: not the grave or the womb or anywhere in between (Ps 139)—Evil and Death do not have the final say because of God’s great love for us expressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As Jesus tells us in our gospel lesson, resurrection isn’t a concept, it’s a person, and those who are united with Christ are promised a share in his resurrection when he returns to raise the dead and usher in God’s new world. Jesus’ new bodily existence attests to the fact that we as humans—body, mind, and spirit—matter to God, and that new bodily existence, not death, is our final destiny for all eternity.
But what about Daniel? What kind of body will he have? What will he look like? After all, we never got a chance to see him as a baby or child or an adult. How will we recognize him? None of us can answer these questions fully, but the NT gives us some guidance. As St. John tells us in our epistle lesson, whatever it is Daniel will be in the new creation, he will be like Christ. In other words, he will have a new physical body in the manner of Christ’s—surely beautiful and radiant—and he will be a full and mature adult, perfectly radiating Christ’s glory as his image-bearer. His parents and family, along with the rest of us, will know him fully and he will know us, all because of the healing love and restorative power of God the Father (cf. Rev 3.5).
When the new creation comes in full at Christ’s return, the dead will be raised to new life and God will put to right all the injustices and hurts in the old world. The dimensions of heaven and earth will no longer be separate spheres for God and humans respectively, and which currently only intersect. Instead, as Revelation 21.1-7 promises, the new Jerusalem, NT code for God’s space or heaven, will come down to earth and the two will be fused together in a mighty act of new creation. We will get to live in God’s direct presence forever and because of this new reality all forms of Evil and darkness will be driven out. God will judge and banish the wicked and evil, all things—spiritual and human—that serve as agents to corrupt, defile, hurt, and destroy God’s image-bearers and the rest of creation. Unjust and untimely deaths will be put to rights forever because the dead will be raised to die no more. Ashley and Nathan will get to meet their son, Daniel; their daughter will get to meet her brother, and they all will get to know and love and enjoy each other forever along with God and the Lamb. Can there be a more perfect form of justice?? How can their tears not be dried up??
Only God has the power to do this and only then can our tears vanish forever. It is a free gift to those of us who belong to Christ, irrespective of where they were in the span of mortal life. To be sure, the new creation is a fantastic promise. But God never lies to us and because we worship the God who has the power to raise the dead and call into existence things that don’t exist (Rom 4.17), we have no reason to doubt its reality or be afraid.
Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we should not grieve. That would be cruel nonsense. You don’t have a young life snuffed out and not grieve over what might have been and/or mortal lives that will never be shared. But as St. Paul reminded the Thessalonians, we are to grieve as people who have real hope and not as those who have none at all (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). It is this resurrection hope, the promise of new bodily life in God’s new heavens and earth—even for those still in the womb—that we claim and proclaim today. Our resurrection hope is the only real basis we have for celebrating Daniel’s tragically short existence, because without union with Christ, none of us have life in this world, no matter how short or long, or the next.
And so we return to Jesus’ question to Martha in our gospel lesson. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this? The promise is mind-boggling. But as we have åseen, the God we worship is mind-boggling. Jesus’ promise that he is the resurrection and the life is ours because of who God is, the God who created us to have life with him forever, and who is embodied in Jesus Christ raised from the dead. That is why we can rejoice today, even in the midst of our grief and sorrow. And if your pain and sorrow are so great that you cannot hear the promise of resurrection today, ask the Lord to help you hold onto the promise until the day comes when you can hear and embrace it. Because of the great love and power of God the Father made known supremely in Jesus Christ, we can proclaim boldly and confidently that baby Daniel is enjoying his rest with his Lord Jesus, safely nestled in his Savior’s arms, until the new creation and the resurrection of our mortal bodies come in full. And that, of course, is Good News, not only for Daniel Miller D, but also for the rest of us, now and for all eternity.
In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.