Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Path to Life Goes through Death

Last Sunday of the Church Year
Sunday of the Fulfillment
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Luke 23:27-43

We have to change the way we think about death. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is on the path that leads to death. We usually don’t spend our time thinking about the end of the world, but today in the Church Year we are reminded that it is coming. On the Last Sunday of the Church Year we are reminded that this will all pass away. We will all one day die. The question is, what does that mean?

We don’t want to die, but we will. We don’t want to think about death, but we should. Jesus here helps us not only to think about death but to prepare properly for death. Part of thinking about life is thinking about death.

But not just our own death. Jesus’ death. This is what it is all about, really. That’s why this passage has been chosen for the Last Sunday of the Church Year. It’s always about Christ’s death. The apostle Paul said, “We preach Christ crucified.” And, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” It is always about that, here in this life, and in eternity.

What is the vision the apostle John receives in the Book of Revelation? The Lamb who was slain. Eternal life comes through death. Our life eternally with God in heaven is through the death of God’s Son on Calvary. Our life is like a path. The path is leading to life with God, but it goes through death.

On this last day of the Church Year there are people with Jesus on the path to death. A multitude, in fact, and women who are mentioned in particular. The path to death is never without sorrow. How could this be happening to Jesus? The women expressed what all decent people would, it was wrong for an innocent man to be treated this way and to have to march the path to death.

But Jesus doesn’t see it this way at all. If you think this is bad, brace yourselves. Don’t weep for me but for yourselves and your children. Be aware that there will come a time when the fortunate ones will be those who don’t have to fear the loss of their children because they had none in the first place. Prepare for the time when you will long to be overtaken by a quick and painless end to the suffering.

This is truly remarkable that Jesus has no thought for Himself as He walks the path of death. Always with His eyes on others. With His thoughts toward those who are not in the dire condition He is in. Jesus shows us here, even before He dies, why He did. Why He chose that path to death. He was always looking out for us.

There were also two particular individuals on that path to death with Jesus. Two criminals. These two men represent all mankind. This is our warning to us what Jesus was talking about when He spoke to the women. If you think it’s bad now, just wait and see. Here we see this in the flesh. These two men are going to die. They are on the path to death. We are told why—they are criminals. They deserve it.

But we also see something remarkable from one of them. One of them realizes that there’s something very different from the one in the middle to the ones on each side of Him. They are there because they deserve it; Jesus is there but is innocent. One of them joins in reviling Jesus. The other criminal rebukes the criminal who’s reviling Jesus. Luke doesn’t tell us which one, the one on Jesus’ left or right, but in the great picture Jesus gives elsewhere of Judgment Day He separates the sheep from the goats, the sheep on His right, the goats on His left.

In that picture there’s a difference between what each say to Jesus. Those on His left, the goats, are stunned that Jesus the Judge would condemn them to eternal judgment. Those on His right know that they have no appeal to make for themselves. They are surprised that Jesus is not giving them the same judgment as the goats.

We seek glory without judgment. Life without death. The rulers and soldiers could not be convinced of Jesus’ claim of being God since He was hanging there on a cross. But if He came down! That would be a whole different ballgame! But there is one small light in the midst of this scene. The one who realizes he’s there because he deserves it. He has nothing to offer Christ. He simply sees that in this dying man’s grace and mercy is something beyond what you and I know so well: this life. This life will end in death, just like those criminals.

And yet it was in that very death of Christ that that man’s prayer was granted. “Remember me in paradise.” “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” Because of Christ’s death and the Holy Spirit’s bringing us to new life in Baptism our Lord’s words apply to us as well at the close of our life: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

The path to life goes through the death of Jesus Christ. A seed does not sprout to life without dying. There is no life without suffering. There is no eternal life without the suffering of Christ. He died that we may live. He walked the path of death so that we may go through it to life eternal. Amen.


1 comment:

Peter said...

Paul, a truly wonderful sermon that proclaims Christ and Him crucified for us and our salvation. Excellent!