Summary: Sermon Objective: This is a funeral sermon designed to share the Good News of hope & resurrection that is found in Jesus Christ.
Through Not In
Sermon Objective: To honor Judy’s request and share the Good News of hope that is found in Jesus Christ to those who are at her memorial service.
51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you find yourself in the city of Baltimore and you need to make your way to New York City, one of the most common and direct paths is through the Harbor Tunnel Throughway (HWY 895). This is a long, dark, that tunnel passes under the Chesapeake Bay before merging with Interstate 95.
If you were to have a child with you as you approach the tunnel the child may begin to ask questions.
Child: “Daddy, where are we going?”
Father: “New York City.”
Child: “Daddy, is New York City IN there?!”
The question has been similar for many through humankind’s existence and the answers haves often been misleading or even, incorrect.
The vast majority of life on earth has answered questions regarding what happens after death by suggesting the answer is somehow IN sheol (the grave). In the day that Jesus and Paul lived it was commonly assumed that there was no answer OUTSIDE the grave. Once humans arrived in sheol they never departed.
* The spirit may exist in an immaterial state of bliss or torment (or varying degrees) but forever one would remain there.
* Some of the day’s religions taught that the spirit was immortal, it had lived long before it entered the present body and would probably enter another after death; but even for these religions, the goal was to be separated from the body; never to remained shackled by its limitations and restrictions.
* For others, the body entered the grave and there was noting else – life ended at death.
This is not too far removed from the vast majority of beliefs in our day. There are many who think that death’s future is IN the grave. That we will live as immaterial spirits, maybe like a ghost or an angel on a cloud, or that that our spirit is left to wander the earth in search of residence.
The Gospel of Jesus speaks to the question with a sense of certainty and clarity that most seek but will never find otherwise. JUST AS THE CHILD IS RELIEVED TO DISCOVER THAT NEW YORK CITY IS NOT IN THE BIG HOLE DADDY IS DRIVING INTO BUT THROUGH THE TUNNEL SO THE CHRISTIAN HOPE OFFERS GOOD NEWS BECAUSE LIFE DOES NOT EXIST IN SHEOL; BUT, RATHER. SHEOL IS THE TUNNEL THAT LEADS TO A NEW RE-CREATED LIFE.
But, the Christian hope did not begin with such radiance. It was birthed in questions and despair.
You see, Jesus’ death was anything but a reason to mock the grave as Paul does in the passage we read. It was, rather, reason to concede that the grave had won – that death was final.
The followers of the Christ certainly had their hopes dashed. There is nothing in the Gospels to suggest they were holding out for an unsuspected victory.
* Some, like their leader, Peter, were contemplating going back to their old lives (the fishing industry)
* Others were hiding out in fear they would be the next to die for rebellion against Rome,
* Even the three that could muster up the courage and energy only went to the grave to pay their last respects.
* For them, for all of them, it was over. Death won. And, alas, the answer was, once again, IN sheol.
What Jesus’ death said about God was not clear either.
* Maybe God was NOT like the God Jesus spoke of. Maybe God’s kingdom did rule by violence or His presence did lie within the corrupt Jewish leadership and tradition.
* Maybe the whole concept of a Jewish God was itself a pipe-dream. Maybe God was no more than a mythic character like the pantheon the Romans paid respect to.
* Maybe there was no God after all.
To try and tame the despair and the questions that the characters in the Gospel stories have is to do an injustice to the story. It also reduces and waters down the impact that eventually springs from the story when Jesus does indeed come forth from the grave – body and all – and model what awaits for those who bow the knee to Him and confess Him as Lord.