A sermon at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Greenville, WI, by Pastor Joel Heckendorf. 

Daniel 12: 1-3  "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever."

 

INTRO TO SERVICE

As part of our Saints Triumphant tradition, we invited the survivors of those families back today.  But it’s more than tradition.  As members of the body of Christ, God directs us to encourage one another.  Encourage one another, not with, “It’ll-be-okays” or “I’ll-be-here-for-yous.”  He gives us something more substantial to share.  “We believe that Jesus died and rose again.  And so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep… Therefore encourage each other with these words.”  I pray that this service is doing just that.  And I pray that this sermon will do just that. 

 

“We commit this body to the ground:  dust to dust, ashes to ashes, earth to earth.”  Five times this past year, we stood at members’ gravesites and said those words.  You heard the names earlier:  Shirley, Alvin, Delores, Irene, and Jerry. Five individuals.  If we’re at a pastors’ conference and say, “We’ve only had five funerals since last Saints Triumphant,” the other guys say, “That’s it?  A church your size only had five funerals.”  To think we’re only one shy of having the same number of baptisms today as we had funerals all year is quite amazing.

Yes, five may seem like a small number.  But I can assure you that to the Simonsons, Hankemeiers, Schroeders, Jentzes and Thorsons, that number is not small.  Because for them, behind one of those numbers stands a mother or a father, a husband or a wife, a grandma or grandpa, a brother or sister, or friend.  Whether or not their deaths were expected doesn’t matter.  Their deaths left big holes in people’s lives.  Deaths have a way of doing that.  Death is not small.  You know how people have a “wake” before a funeral?  Do you know why they call it a “wake”?  It’s an old European custom that mourners would stay awake, have a vigil over a body, until it could be buried.   Whenever I hear “wake” in connection to a funeral, I think of the wake that a boat leaves in the water.  It’s a fitting picture… death always leaves a wake behind it.  There really is no such thing as a “No Wake Zone” when it comes to death.  It always affects somebody.  And I bet that sometime within this past year, that somebody was you. 

For some of you, the wake was pretty big.  If you were the one closest to the casket, able to clearly hear those un-miced words, “dust to dust, ashes to ashes”, if you were the one who got to pluck a rose from the casket spray, I imagine the waves were and perhaps still are crashing with significant force in your life.  But even if you were on the fringes of that committal, the ripples of the wake still reached you.  Whose death caused at least a ripple in your life this year?  That death touches everyone is seen in this word before us today, “Multitudes.”  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth.  As was said last week, the odds for death is still one to one.  And the odds of a death affecting you is the same.

Text Box: Daniel 12 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.But thankfully the verse doesn’t stop there.  While death can leave a tumultuous wake for those who are left behind, our greatest comfort today is that death is a wake zone for those who have fallen asleep.  “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake.”  In the end, that is some of the best news that I can share with you today.  That loved one who fell asleep in Jesus’ arms this past year, is doing just that – sleeping.  That’s what Jesus said about Jairus’ little girl.  Professional mourners laughed because Jesus said she was sleeping.  But when he said, “Get up,” that’s exactly what happened.  When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, what did Jesus tell his disciples?  “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” And a few days later, that’s exactly what happened.  When Jesus stood at the grave and shouted, “Come out,” Lazarus’ grave clothes became pajamas.  How could Jesus do that?  Because one day, he would walk away from his own grave.   Jesus is more powerful than death, assuring you that one day Jesus’ voice will wake your loved one up.  Not only is their soul already enjoying peace with Jesus, that very body that you watched descend into a grave to become dust, will wake up and be reunited with its soul – not to live in world that is marked by disease and dementia.  They will wake up to enjoy everlasting life. 

And we say, “I know.  I know that my loved one’s soul is resting with Jesus right now.  And I know that my loved one’s body will wake up in such a perfect way to enjoy everlasting life, body and soul together.  But… but, but I still am sad.  The fact that they will wake from their death hasn’t gotten me out of the wake of their death. The waves of loneliness still crash against me.  I still feel the pain.  I still feel the pressure like my world is closing in on me.  I still feel… I don’t even know the right words to describe it.  I feel distressed.”

What do you want me to say?  “Don’t worry… it’ll get better.”  Oh, I suppose time numbs you to the pain.  But does it ever get better?  Does life ever get better?  By the time Daniel gets this vision, he’s been through the ringer.  He’s probably at a point that he thinks it couldn’t get any worse.  And the Lord says, “Guess what, it’s going to get worse.”  This is how he puts it, “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.”  That’s not just something God said to Daniel.  That’s something he says to us, “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning.”  This isn’t saying we’re necessarily going to feel more lonely, more afraid, more pressure from the loss of our loved ones.  What it is saying is that this world isn’t getting any better.  It’s going to get worse, much worse for God’s people.  Much worse for people like you and me.

Probably not the most comforting message to share on Saints Triumphant Day.  We invited all these mourners back and I say, “It’s going to get worse.”  Pastor H, what are you thinking?  Or don’t you know we’ve got four baptisms?  What about all the visiting aunts, uncles and cousins?  Do you want them walking away thinking we have the most depressing church? 

No, I don’t.  But I do want them and I want you to know what the Lord says.  There will be a time of distress… but. Throughout Scripture, we can find some of the greatest comfort in that little word, “but.”  The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.1  Very rarely will anyone die for anyone else, but God demonstrates his love for us in this:  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.2   My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.3  Look at what God says here.  First he assures Daniel and us that we won’t face these times of distress alone.  We’ll have help – a much greater help than somebody in the funeral line who pats your back and says, “Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.”  The Lord sends his angels to watch over you.  Not only are they front-line soldiers, fighting battles on our behalf we may not even know about, they’re also ministering spirits whom God deploys to strengthen us when we’re weak.  And here, when distress is at its worst, he will dispatch the chief angel Michael, the best one for the job.  Again, don’t stop there.  “There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until the – and Michael’s going to help you with that -- But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered.”

No matter how bad things may get, you will be delivered.  The book mentioned here is the book of life.  Elsewhere in the Bible it’s called the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain on the cross to deliver you from your sins.  The Lamb who was slain on the cross to deliver you from death.  That Lamb is Jesus.  To fight the distress, God sends Michael and all his angels.  But to deliver you from distress, he sends himself.  Today, Saints Triumphant day, we celebrate people’s connection to that Deliverer.  Those five people who fought through disease and dementia, those five people who experienced 430 collective years of distress on this earth have been delivered.  No longer are they part of the church militant – they are part of the saints triumphant.  Why?  Because of their connection to Jesus, their names were written in the book of life.

And today, we celebrate your connection to that same Lamb, to that deliverer.  “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” In other words, those four names you just heard at the font, they weren’t just written down in our cradle roll.  They were written down in the book of life.  They will be delivered.  Or think of the connection we have to the Deliverer in Holy Communion.  Is not the cup that we drink and is not the bread that we break a participation in the blood and body of Christ?”  When you receive this meal, Jesus is underlining your name in that book of life.  Yes, there is and will be distress, but we will be delivered.

That’s what we often forget.  You’ve heard the saying, “Sometimes you can’t see the forest through the trees.”   As struggling Christians, I think we sometimes only see the forest.  We see one big mass of darkness or death and distress – we see this massive forest of challenges in front of us, and we don’t always see the tree of the cross and the way it cuts through death and distress.  Take a look at this picture.  What do you see?   A beautiful, star-lit sky?  Good.  Most of that picture is black.  Dark trees.  Don’t let the shadows shade out the beauty.  That’s the Lord’s point to Daniel, and to you.  Don’t let the dust of death or the distress of life dim in any way your view of the diamonds. “Those who are wise – those who know Jesus as their Deliverer and those who make Jesus known as the Deliverer --  will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”  Amen.


1 Romans 6:23  

2 Romans 5:7-8

3 Psalm 73:26