Saturday, September 17, 2011
Sermon for the Funeral of Annette Lundgren (September 17, 2011)
“The Great Metamorphosis” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57)
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:51-57)
In the name of Jesus.
Annette loved her butterflies. You saw her collection hanging in the entryway as you walked in here this morning. What an appropriate symbol on a day like today. For although we are gathered together because a dear family member and friend has died, yet we also know that resurrection awaits her. Resurrection awaits all who have been baptized in the name of the Triune God and who trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin, death, and hell. When Annette was baptized, she was united with Jesus in his death and resurrection. And like the widow Anna whom we heard about in our Gospel reading, Annette loved to be in God’s house. There was hardly a Sunday that she missed, even in her advanced years. That strong German heart just kept ticking. She came here as often as she could to hear God’s Word, to confess her sins, to hear the Absolution that said her sins were forgiven, and to eat and drink the body and blood of her Savior Jesus in the Holy Supper. She truly cherished those things.
The butterfly has long been a symbol of resurrection. Think, for a moment, about where a butterfly starts. It starts out as a lowly caterpillar. It sluggishly trudges along, satisfying its voracious appetite, easily threatened by predators. But then, after a brief time, it comes to a mundane end. It sheds its skin and appears entombed in a hard-shelled chrysalis. It appears to be asleep, even dead. But inside that chrysalis, an amazing transformation takes place … a metamorphosis … a change of form. Eventually, a beautiful butterfly emerges, gloriously patterned and colored, freed from the bonds of earth.
In many ways, the journey of a caterpillar is like the journey we have in these temporal – these time-bound – bodies. From the moment we are born, we begin to die. Most of us enjoy a period of vigor and health. But not long after that, we begin to experience the effects of aging. We sluggishly trudge along, satisfying our appetites for whatever the world has to offer … some of which is good and beneficial and gives glory to God, some of which is displeasing to God our Creator and Redeemer and of which we need to repent. In relation to eternity, this life of 60, 70, 80, or even 90 years is all too brief. We slow down. We experience a mundane ending. Death. Some of us fizzle out. Some of us flame out. But death is death no matter whether it comes suddenly or slowly. And it’s all because of mankind’s sin, as St. Paul reminds us, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t finish that verse for you: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Death is not the end. Eternal life awaits us as a gift because of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
In death, our bodies are entombed. The Bible describes it like sleep. We even talk about how our remains are “laid to rest.” But although our remains appear to sleep, like an insect changing inside a chrysalis, it is truly dead. One day, however, a metamorphosis will occur for us. Our bodies will be changed from mortal to immortal, from perishable to imperishable. It will be a glorious body, freed from the bonds of sin and death and all the sorrows and pains and anxieties and troubles that we endure in this life.
And all of this will occur because of the journey that Jesus took for us. In order to save us from our sinful condition – lost, separated from God, deserving of his just wrath because of our disobedience to his commands – the Son of God came to earth and took on human flesh. He humbled himself. Although he was True God, he became True Man, limiting himself to a human body. He trudged along with us in this life, making himself vulnerable. He got tired. He got hungry. He suffered, died, and was buried. Yet in all this, he never sinned. He lived a perfect life as our substitute. At the cross, the sinless Son of God had the sins of the world credited to his account. In fact, Psalm 22 has been understood to be the words of the Savior as he suffered and died, and he declares “I am a worm and not a man” (Ps. 22:6). He felt what is was like to be forsaken by his Father. His death paid the price for our sins, the debt we owe to God. And now, by trusting in his saving death, his perfect life – his righteousness – is credited to your account. You are forgiven. You are free.
But Christ’s journey did not end at the cross. His lifeless body was laid in the tomb. Three days later, on Easter morning, his body burst forth. A metamorphosis had taken place. The One who called himself a worm emerged from his stony chrysalis alive, glorified, immortal, imperishable, never to die again … yet still bearing the nail scars that remind us of his crucifixion which earned for us the forgiveness of all our sins. Now, his resurrection frees us from the bonds of sin and death, and guarantees our resurrection to eternal life on the Last Day.
Annette’s last day on this earth was last Saturday. She is with her Lord. On the Last Day, whenever that day will be, her soul will be reunited with her remains, and like a beautiful butterfly, a metamorphosis will take place. She will rise again just as her Savior Jesus rose to life again.
You and I are called to be ready, too. Each death we face is a reminder for us that we are to be ready for our last day on earth. Not all of us will be blessed to live as long a life as Annette did. None of us knows when we will take our last breath. And there is always the possibility that we will still be alive when Jesus returns. Either way, on that day we will be changed, “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:52). Tomorrow, we will hear these words read in church: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Is. 55:6). He is near to you today through these very words that you are hearing. Seek him, because out of his great love for you he has already sought you and died for you and rose for you. Be ready for Christ’s return by repenting of your sins, trusting in him as your Savior, and clinging to the promises that God gives in Holy Baptism … the place where God first called Annette’s name 97 years ago and made her his beloved child.
May the peace of God in Christ Jesus and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life comfort your hearts today and always.