Never Forget These Words
Fourteen words. That's all I'm asking. Fourteen words that say it all. Fourteen words that'll change your life. Fourteen words that capture all human history. Fourteen words of hope. Fourteen words so powerful I can only give you a few you at a time. Here's the first six, "We proclaim your death, Oh Lord." When you and I think about death, we're usually afraid. That's what happens in the Gospel story today. Death scares us. We don't understand it. Death hurts, and we dread it. Some of us even deny it. I remember when I was teaching my first daughter to drive, Sarah Anne, she wasn't necessarily the best at paying attention to everything around her. I had to remind her red lights-- they're not just suggestions. It was as if on the inside, she said, "But, Dad, I'm invincible. I'm 15, 16 years old." Meanwhile, I'm doing that invisible dad thing with my feet, trying to stop the brakes on the floorboard on the passenger side. That's evidently what Ted Williams thought, too. You remember Ted, the greatest hitter of baseball without steroids. When he died, Ted went to Alcor Life Extension Foundation near the Scottsdale, Arizona airport. They took his frozen body, and they put it in storage with the other residents. The bodies were frozen and placed in a glass-like matrix waiting to reanimate. There were plaques beneath all their photos. Beneath Ted's, it said, "First life cycle 1925 to 1997. Second life cycle, 1997 to--" And that was left blank. He was awaiting his second life cycle when science will bring us back from the dead. Ted's not dead. He's just waiting for a second life cycle.
Human beings, we just don't know what to do with death. We either dread it or deny it. But the fact of the matter is, you and I will die. And here it is, plain as day. Jesus stepped out of the heavens on Christmas morning. He grew into a full man. And on Good Friday, he died. He willingly placed himself on the cross. He died and he was buried in a tomb. God is a God who loves us enough to become one of us, even to endure death. We proclaim your death, Oh Lord. That equals love. I think you're ready for the next bunch of words now, because the story doesn't end there, does it?
Here's the next four, “And profess your resurrection.” It's like my first-grade buddy said when he was asked about Easter, "Jesus was in a cave and he came out." Indeed, he did. Jesus is the firstborn of the dead, the first fruit, the pioneer of life. Jesus doesn't do funerals. He only does resurrections. Ask Gyrus, whose daughter Jesus raised. Ask Lazarus, who stepped out of the cave himself. Jesus was in the cave and he came out. He kicked open the door that had been locked since the death of Adam. He met, fought, and vanquished the King of death. And everything is different because he's done so. I was reminded of that at a funeral not long ago when the pastor reminded us of a man who went shopping for an oriental rug for his home. So he went to the store, and they had all the rugs hanging so that you could examine each one. And he started with the first one, and it was $25. The next one was about $100. The next one was $200. And pretty soon, he noticed that they were arranged from the cheapest to the most expensive. And so, he just went ahead and fast-forwarded all the way to the most expensive one to see just how lovely it was. When he got to the last one, he looked at the price tag, it was $25,000. He was pretty excited. But he looked at the rug and he thought, "This is the ugliest rug I've ever seen. This is hideous. How in the world could this homely rug be so expensive?" So, he went to the owner and he said, "This is outrageous. The extravagant price on this rug. Look at this. $25,000. You kidding me? Look how ugly that is." And the owner walked him around and said, “that's because you're looking at it from the wrong side.”
That's the thing about death. You and I are looking at it from the wrong side. You and I know the one who has stepped through to the other side, and he will take us there, too. You may remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor in Germany as Hitler rose to power. He was one of the few Christians that stood up to Hitler and Nazi Germany. He organized an underground Church that refused to obey the Furrer. And eventually, that decision and his leadership landed Dietrich Bonhoffer in prison in a concentration camp. On a Sunday morning, April 8, 1945, just a few weeks before the allies captured Berlin as worship was ending, Dietrich was praying with men and his group when the SS guards walked in and they shouted, "Bonhoeffer, come with us." The other men had ashen looks on their faces because they knew that their leader was about to be led to his death. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer walked out the door of that little room where he'd been worshipping with other men, going out into the courtyard where he knew he would be executed, he turned back and he looked at his fellow prisoners and he said, "This isn't the end for me. It's the beginning." And profess your resurrection. That's faith.
All right, I think you're ready for the last words now, the words that say it all, the final four, “Until you come again.” We call this the mystery of faith that's been used since the third century to remind us that death is not the end. Resurrection is not the end. We know the end. We know how the story comes out. We know that Jesus is coming again to wrap this whole thing up. We eagerly await that day when he will step out of heaven onto a stairway of clouds filled with stars and as he descends, he'll be jangling the keys of heaven in his hands and with a large smile on his face, he's going to say, "Come on boys and girls, it's closing time." The day when Christ will come again. When His Kingdom will be made complete. All things will be made new. A new heaven and a new earth. No more death, no more pain, no more suffering, no more evil. We will bask in his presence. We will eat at his table. We will worship at his throne. Everything before then is just preparation, just a first taste. And it's true for all who believe, for all who know the risen Lord, for all who call upon the name of the firstborn of the dead. God's first fruit, the pioneer of life. The one who has kicked open the door, removed the veil, and will lead us home. Until you come again. That's hope. “We proclaim your death, Oh Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.” Happy Easter!