Dear Fellow Believers in the Resurrection:
We know that (as of this writing) 140,000 people in this country and 600,000 around the world have died from the novel coronavirus that holds us all in so much uncertainty. Different websites put that death toll in front of me every day or so. During this Stay-at-Home Order, we have had two funerals: one graveside for our brother in Christ Charles Nottke, Jr., and one here in church for our sister in Christ Verla Ziebarth at 95 years of age. Perhaps it is not too strange that with all of this present reality of sickness and death, I have been thinking about death perhaps a bit more these last weeks. It is both an occupational hazard for pastors, and an existential hazard for us all.
When death is so near it is worth reminding ourselves what we as Christians believe about death. The Proper Preface used when the Holy Communion is celebrated in a Funeral Service (the Proper Preface is what the Pastor chants right before we join in singing the Sanctus with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven) reminds us that for the faithful in death, “life is transformed and not taken away, so that this earthly body is prepared for an eternal home in heaven.” All who die in the communion of Christ’s Holy Church will enjoy that eternal dwelling place at the resurrection of the dead. We confess as much when we confess in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
In the Nicene Creed we confess not only belief, but also anticipation: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” The original Latin text there is: “expecto resurrectionem mortuorum…” You will see in the Latin the word for “expect.” In other words, we expect the resurrection of the dead. The emphasis is not on seeing it with our eyes, but eager expectation: we eagerly expect that there will be a resurrection of the dead according to all of Christ’s promises to us.
“In the midst of life we are in death; from whom can we seek help?” asks one of the burial anthems in the funeral committal liturgy. “From you alone, O Lord,” we respond. Our expectation of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting is one that we invoke with sincerity, longing, and need. We need help, for death looks for all purposes like the end. We have help in the person of Jesus Christ who will raise up all people on the last day. The mortal bodies that lie in death all over the world will receive life again. Bodies will be resurrected and souls reunited with them. We expect it, we need it, for life in the bodies notwithstanding its hardships is very good and death is so destructive and gruesome and final.
And that is exactly why each week in the liturgy, we are staring down death. Indeed, that is one of the reasons why we come to the Divine Service: It is God’s proclamation of eternal life in the midst of temporal death!
And so each week, confessing the Creed, we are facing down death together as we confess eager expectation of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. We name and confess that promise of God to us in Jesus Christ. Some days it is very difficult to believe. Other days we can say it confidently with the joy of the memories of those who have died in Christ and the hope of the new creation where dead, sorrow, and sin are no more.
During these present days, may we hold extra hard onto the joys of life in this age and the expectation of new and renewed joys in the next.
Waiting with you in expectation,
Pastor Steven Anderson