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Rooted Growing Branching

Nov 20, 2016

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WHEN DEATH WILL BE NO MORE

Doug Hatlem, preaching
In the liturgical life of the wider church, we have reached the last Sunday of the year. This period of the church calendar began with Pentecost and ends the week before the first Sunday of Advent and the first Sunday of a new church year. More high church traditions refer to this as Reign of Christ Sunday. Mennonites here in Ontario, as we are this morning, together honour those who have passed from this life to the next under the rubric of Eternity Sunday.

We should note that there are very opposite, but surprisingly similar errors that people of faith can make when discussing and approaching the reality of death amongst our members. Both of those mistakes, in very different ways, are attempts to de-emphasize the need for or reality of suffering, grief, and pain for those of us left behind when a friend, relative, or loved one dies. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the life of someone who has died, but the more evangelical among us may wrongly act as if there is nothing to mourn at all, comforting each other with the Biblical conviction that someone has died and quote “gone to a better place.”

It should be noted that Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus when he died, even in the moments before Jesus brought Lazarus back to life. The Law prescribed a sacred period of mourning. And here in Revelation, the tears that are wiped away are neither denied as unnecessary or condemned as overwrought. They are an expected part of the world as it is.

A second error, more common among liberal Christians or those of no faith at all, is to bury grief under an overstated notice that death is a natural part of life. Death simply is and should be embraced as such. Indeed, the reign that death has over everything can be witnessed everywhere. It is important to note that nowhere in Scripture is the church urged to be stoic in the face of such death triumphant.

According to our passage in Revelation a time will finally come when death will be no more.

But the language “Behold I make all things new” And the vision of a New Heaven and New Earth also has it source in Isaiah where the writer tends mostly to treat early death as a tragedy. The source passage in Isaiah is also quick to see the forces of death in other spaces of injustice. It is a kind of death to build a house and have someone else steal it from you. Or to plant a vineyard and not be able to eat from its vines. In Isaiah’s new order of things there will also be peace. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together

The lion shall eat straw like the ox. This is not the total defeat of death, but instead a celebration of life that is full and abundant. In language that resonates with our theme these past several weeks the author of Isaiah writes: “for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be.” In Isaiah death as we experience it is unnatural, but not necessarily death itself. The promises in the Revelation passage are stronger. Death itself is unnatural. Death, decay, pain will all be no more. Definitively defeated.

In either event there are more than enough reasons for our tears. In scripture there is no injunction forbidding mourning. Indeed, to be God’s people is to be a people who are unsettled enough by Christian hope to recognize that there is so much to mourn. Here today we remember lives cut short, babies stillborn, but also people who lived good lives among us – who have flourished in this world like mighty oaks. And as we remember, let us then strongly affirm that there is a time to mourn, and for us, it is this morning. There is a time to weep, to grieve, to sit in stony silence. Unhappy. With little to look forward to, perhaps with our appetites completely gone. Where even words intended to comfort grate like nails on a black slate board. There is a time to linger with grief. And we might also note that traditional Christian words of comfort, need neither be abandoned as simplistic or outmoded nor embraced in such a way to deny the reality of our sorrow. We do remain united in Jesus Christ with those who are dead. “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Romans 8:38,39

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Revelation 21:1-5
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’

(NRSV)