(Note: Matthew tragically took his life. This is posted for those who may need comfort during such a time as well.)
(Note: This hymn on the side is the hymn referenced, listen to it sung by Lutheran youth at a Higher Things Conference.)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
From time to time, people expect me to have “the answers.” Because of what I do, people thing that I must have some sort of direct line to God; that I must know “why;” that I must have something to say that will make it all better.
I don’t. Because the truth is that there are no words that will magically make it all better.
I could say all sorts of nice things – things about God’s plan and God’s purpose, things about how everything will work out for the best – and I’ll bet that well-meaning family and friends have said those things to you in the last week. But, however true those things may be, they do not make today any easier, and they do not make this any less painful.
For a week ago, no one could have predicted that you would be here this afternoon. This has been an especially hard week. Know this: life is so very fragile. When you stop and pay attention, it can seem as though everything around us makes life dangerous. Sometimes the things that endanger us the most are sneaky and unimaginable.
In the reading from the Gospel you just heard, Jesus shows up in Bethany where his friend Lazarus has died. And there are immediately questions. Mary and Martha both approach Jesus and the first thing they say: “Jesus, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
I wonder, today how many of us have faced the same question – how many of us have sat in the quiet of the night, and accused ourselves just as Jesus was accused by Mary and Martha.”If only I had said something. If only I had done something different. He would not have died.” Sound familiar?
What if, Maybe, Perhaps – these questions haunt us, and they are not our friend. They are from the evil one who would seek to likewise overcome you in a moment of despair.
No, our question today – the real question – is not “What if.” Our question is “What now?” We do the same as Jesus did for his friend Lazarus. Today we grieve. As Jesus came to Bethany, he wept over the death of his friend. As Jesus joins our worship this day, I believe he weeps as well. It is a good for us to mourn – to acknowledge our pain together.
Our God, is not afraid of the dark places of life, and is not afraid of our grief. Jesus wept, and so will we today. And in the days to come. And Jesus will continue to walk with us to the tomb, will walk beside us no matter how dark that grief gets. The promise is not that we will understand the “Why” or the “What if” – but that there is no where we can go that God will not go with us. As we sang, “thou camest to our hall of death, O Christ to breath our poisoned air, to drink for us the dark despair, that strangled our reluctant breath.’
The God we proclaim today is not a God who magically makes everything better, but a God who stands beside us in the darkest hours and troubles of life.
We are not sad for Matthew. Not today. No, as we grieve, we are not sad for Matthew. We are sad for ourselves – for that place that Matthew filled in our life, for the laugh that we won’t hear every day, for the smile that we can’t see today. And so, in our grief, we name that empty place, and we remember Matthew. These unanswered questions, these gaping holes that it feels like will never be filled, may easily deafen us to the reality of the questions that God’s Word clearly answer for you and I today. These questions which God answers in His Word are far more comforting, far more helpful than anything that our souls or the world may try to answer for us.
First of all, we know that Matthew is baptized. Notice I didn’t say was baptized. I said is baptized. When God baptized Matthew at this font that changed everything for him. Jesus death on the cross and His resurrection from the tomb now became his. There the Old Adam was killed and there Jesus proclaimed to the new man as He did to Lazarus, “come out!”
Second, we know that he heard God’s Word and received Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. In 1987 he was confirmed in the Christian faith right here, at this altar. The picture is in the back to remember that day. As you may look through, remember more though, the faith confessed in Christ, the promise to remain faithful unto death, and the continued receiving of Christ’s saving body and blood which flow from the altar. His church attendance of late is unclear, but always remember that God’s Word does not return void. When God makes promises in His Word, He keeps them. So we trust God’s Word more even that what our eyes or hearts might have us believe.
Matthew’s death has brought sorrow and heartache, pain and unanswered questions. There are a lot of tears, and even guilt. And if we are honest about it, there is a lot of fear as well.
I don’t know what was going through his heart and mind in those last few days, those last few hours. But I have some idea though, as many of you well know, it is dark, it is frightful.
But I also know this, that day in Bethany did not end in the tomb. No, our Lord brought new life into being — life in the midst of death. Because that is what he does. And that is what he will continue to do in your lives.
In Christ, God has marched into our hall where sin and death were given royal room, until our servant Prince of Peace has broken those walls to release us. Christ died for Matthew. Nothing can change that. He also died for you, that in these dark and latter days there may a life of praise.
Today Christ weeps with you as you weep. And even now – here, in the valley of the shadow of death – even here, God is working to bring new life and joy into the world. And in the midst of questions trust that which alone is certain and true, the gifts of Christ given for you. Weep, but not as those without hope. Weep for today, but rejoice for tomorrow and look to Christ who calls sinners out of tombs unto life everlasting.
In the name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.