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Edward F. Markquart

That Obituary Was Wrong

"I am the resurrection and the life."  

EASTER     John 11:25-27    

Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Alleluia. Praise the Lord. Praise God for the might things that God did on Easter. Praise God with harps and lyres. Praise God with drums and dancing. Praise God with cornets and trumpets. Praise God with singing choirs and shouting voices.  For Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead by the powers of God. Christ is here alive, now, in this room, at this very moment. Christ rules now, whether you believe it or not. And then, at the very end of history, when the clock strikes twelve and history is ended, then once again the trumpets will sound, the choirs will sing their alleluias, the dead will be raised, and we too shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. That is the Gospel. That is the gospel truth of Easter morning.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die."

If Jesus would have had a funeral, and if there had been newspapers in those days, his obituary would have been listed in the Nazareth News, along with all the other obituaries, Section E, page seven. It would have been listed under the Js e.g. Jacob, Jesus, Joseph …, in capital letters of course. The obituary may have read, “Jesus of Nazareth was born in the year 6 BC. He was born to Mary and Joseph, the carpenter from Galilee. He was preceded in death by a father, Joseph. He is survived by his mother, Mary of Capernaum, also by his brothers, James, Joseph, Judas and Simon, also of Capernaum and several other sisters. During his lifetime, it was rumored—according to this newspaper article—during his lifetime, he received some notoriety and publicity because of unusual occurrences associated with his life such as the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, and the lame walking. It was also rumored that he radically changed people’s lives. More recently, according to this short article in the Nazareth News, last Sunday in Jerusalem, large Passover crowds hailed him as king. Shortly thereafter, the crowds turned against him. This past Friday afternoon, he was sentenced to death by the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, representing the Roman Empire in Jerusalem. He was killed at three o’clock in the afternoon on Golgotha hill, the hill of the crucifixion, outside the walls of Jerusalem. His burial was in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. His family requests that no flowers be sent, but rather than memorials be send to the crippled children’s fund in care of the synagogue in Bethlehem, the place of his birth.”

And so would read the hypothetical obituary and short article from the Nazareth News on Sunday morning, Section E, page seven, along with the other obituaries.

If that obituary had been printed in the Nazareth News, everyone would have thought that the Jesus movement had ended. Its leader was now dead. His disciples had disappeared. The stories of miracles would fade away. That little episode would become one small slice of Roman history. It would have been like a pebble thrown into a pond: it would have made a momentary splash and the ripples gradually would fade away and disappear. And so it was with Jesus of Nazareth. His life was a momentary splash. His reputation, his memory, his teachings would have faded into the smoothness of the sea…..except…..except for one unique event. On the third day, unbelievably, they discovered the grave empty. Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead by the mighty powers of God. He was alive again. Recognizable and identifiable. He was alive again, in a new way, in a new kind of body that would never taste death. And so they shouted, “He is risen! Alleluia! That obituary was wrong. They said he was dead, over and done with. Wrong. They were wrong.”

The news spread, from the angel to Mary to Peter to the disciples to the 500. And they became a new people. They became a new brand of men and women who were filled with a new power, with Easter power, with resurrection power. They were no longer afraid of living because they were no longer afraid of dying. They had a new passion for life because they had an Easter power, a resurrection power within them. Why? Because that obituary was wrong. That obituary said he was dead, over and done with. Wrong. That obituary was incomplete. It didn’t tell the whole story.

Today, we gather in a church twenty centuries later. We gather from every race and every culture and every nation. We gather by the hundreds, by the thousands, by the millions. We come to celebrate God’s Easter message, with Easter hymns and Easter hats and Easter litanies and Easter choirs and Easter trumpets. We come to hear the good news: Christ has been raised from the dead by the victorious powers of God. Christ is risen. Alleluia.

Why? Why? Why do hundreds and thousands and millions celebrate today and through two thousand years of past history? Because that obituary was wrong. The story was incomplete. The resurrection powers of God are stronger than all obituaries. The resurrection powers of God are stronger than all death notices.

But…..why… are you here today? Why did you happen to come? Why? Why is it that the sanctuaries of the world are comparatively full today and comparatively empty next Sunday? Why is it that we jam the pews by the millions today and next week there will be plenty of seating in the pews available next week? Why are you here today and perhaps not next week?

Perhaps  you are here today because of tradition. It is where you are always found on Easter Sunday morning. Easter Sunday? We always go to church on Easter. Perhaps your mother expects you to sit next to her on Easter and so you are here today. … Or, maybe you are here today because Easter and spring go hand in hand. The azaleas are blooming; the rhododendrons are blossoming; the daffodils are bright yellow. It is the beginning of spring. It smells like spring. It smells like Easter. It feels like Easter in the air. And so you are here today to enjoy the everlasting cycle of new life in the spring. … Or, maybe you are here today because these are tough times for you and your family, and you and your family are hurting. Maybe you have personally discovered that you are not as tough as you thought you were and you have also discovered that life is tougher than you thought it was. Maybe you want to be reminded that tough times don’t last but tough people do. You want that strength, power and resilience that comes from Christ.  ... Or maybe you have come today because you are a Christmas and Easter Christian. You come twice a year on the big holidays. You have time for Christmas or Easter, but those two times of worship are plenty for you. Church is not really your thing. You may have fallen away from the deeper faith that you had in childhood. You had it once but you don’t have it any more; that deep faith and deep loyalty to Christ. You feel badly but not badly enough to do anything about it. … Or maybe you have come here today because you believe. You deeply believe that God conquered death in the person of Jesus Christ, and so you are here today to celebrate. … Why have you come today? … Because that obituary was wrong.

The doctor sank into the chair at 3:00 o’clock in the morning. His tired eyes were tired; so tired that they could see with his superb clarity of vision. His mind was exhausted, one of the finest minds that had graduated Summa Cum Laude from his university. His fingers were tired, the finest fingers for surgery in his city. His mind turned over the complicated procedures that he had just supervised in vain. As the doctor pulled off his plastic gloves, he thought of the other times that he had operated on this little boy, only five years old. Heart surgery. Arterial repair. Kidney repair. But he lost him. Doctors never like to lose patients. He signed the death certificate at 3:09 AM. The sterile surgical instruments were now helpless. Those masterful hands, the finest in the city, were now helpless. It was all over. Death had come. Nothing more he could do. Might as well go home for a rest. … Three days later, this great surgeon attended the boy’s funeral. He usually didn’t attend funerals of patients but this one was different and he had to go, at least to this funeral of a five year old. There was a dullness in his strong spirit as he sat in the church that day. A numbness. A tiredness. Through the gaze of his depression, he heard the words simply stated: “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Those words stuck in his mind. Those words were like a record struck in its track, that repeated itself over and over again, “shall never die. Shall never die. Shall never die. Shall never die. Shall never die.”  The old record wouldn’t stop. The words stuck in a grove in his mind, “shall never die, shall never die, shall never die, shall never die.

The surgeon knew that he had heard of the biggest breakthrough ever. Bigger than the cure for polio. Bigger than the cure for cancer. Bigger than the cure for heart disease. Bigger than the cure for leukemia, multiple sclerosis or AIDS. God had conquered the worst of all diseases, death. The words kept on ringing and repeating in his mind. He couldn’t stop them. “Shall never die. Shall never die. Shall never die. Shall never die.”

The grand physician of the universe had done what no doctor could ever do. The terrible disease of death, death that had destroyed every doctor who ever lived, that disease had finally been conquered.

He finally left the funeral that day, hearing the words that were stuck like a repeating record, “shall never die, shall never die, shall never die, shall never die.” And he murmured to himself, “That obituary was wrong. The powers of God are stronger than all obituaries and all death notices.”

Someday, inevitably, you are I will look into that grave dug into the ground or we will focus our eyes on a box of ashes of the body of our loved one who has just died. Inevitably, it will happen to you. You cannot escape it. On that day, if my wife precedes me in death, my heart will break into a thousand pieces. On that day, if my child or grandchildren will precede me in death, my heart will be truly shattered, as nothing else could shatter my heart. In the midst of my sorrow and in the midst of my brokenness, I will hear that record repeating itself endlessly, “shall never die, shall never die, shall never die, shall never die,” and those words will be stronger than my sorrow.

Why? Because that obituary was wrong.
I love the Easter poem that states it this way:
“The stars shine over the land,
The stars shine over the sea,
The stars look up to God,
The stars look down on me.
The stars will shine for a million years,
For a million years and a day,
But God and I shall live and love,
When the stars have passed away.”

But there is more. Easter is not only concerned about God’s victory over physical death, but Easter is also concerned about God’s victory over spiritual death. God raises up both dead bodies and dead spirits. Spiritual obituaries and spiritual death notices are also premature and don’t tell the whole story. God raises spiritually dead people to life all the time, and I have seen it again and again. I have seen and heard and experienced real life stories all the time of people who were spiritually dead, with spiritual obituaries, with spiritual death stories, and God put new life back into them. That is also what Easter is all about.

“Most likely.” No, that is not a strong enough phrase. “Inevitably,” there are people here today who are spiritually dead or who are so close to being spiritually dead, you would never able to tell that they were alive. Looking at them and talking with them, you feel that they are spiritually comatose. You put a spiritual stethoscope on their religious heart and it would go, “boop…..boop…..boop…..boop.”  You think that their hearts are almost dead; at least, their spiritual hearts seem dead; they seem to be in a spiritual coma. Too busy for God.  Too preoccupied making their daily bread, no time for spiritual bread. Too busy running in circles and God is not part of their circle. “Boop….boop….boop….boop.”

For some of you, your spiritual life is as dehydrated as the dry bones described in the book of Ezekiel. Your life is relatively unaffected by spiritual things. Two days ago on Good Friday, you barely even thought of Jesus Christ, when Jesus was nailed to the cross.  The monitor of your brain, the line of your brain waves, is almost flat, and you barely remembered Christ on Good Friday. The study of Scripture and daily prayer are beyond your world of comprehension.  The pangs of hell? The pangs of hell don’t frighten you. The joys of heaven? The joys of heaven don’t really attract you. This life is so all consuming for you and your brain. And deep down inside, in all honesty, you may – as people would say – not give a rip about God or Christ or life lived under and with God daily. Oh, you may pray when in a jam, just like about everybody else. Oh, you may believe in the “Man Upstairs,” but that daily authentic walk with God is not part of your life. “Boop…..boop….boop….boop.”

Tell me, can a person who is deaf be afraid of the thunder? ….. No. ….. Can a person who is blind be afraid of the piercing flash of lightening? ….. No. Neither can a person who is spiritually deaf truly hear the Word of God speaking to them every day, nor can the spiritually blind see the piercing light of God shining on their lives. The spiritually deaf cannot really hear the voice of God and the spiritually blind will not be overjoyed at seeing the beauties of God in Christ. For some of you, you do not fear of God’s power. Nor is there a joy in God’s awesome beauty and grace. Because your lives have become dead, rattling like the dry bones of the skeletons described in the book of Ezekiel. … No thunder of God do you hear! No light of God do you see! No delicacies of God do you really taste or eat!

And the Easter message is that the awesome power of God, who raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, can miraculously take your dead life and mine and make it alive. God can take people who are spiritually dead and give us resurrection power, Easter power, and vibrant power so that life is lived with a passion for the ways of God. And it is time. It is time for you to wake up, to come out from your spiritual coma, to be raised up from your spiritual lethargy by the powers of God.

You are here today, not simply because of tradition; not simply because you are two times a year Christians; not simply because you smell springtime and Easter in the air. You are here today because God wanted you to be here, so that you can listen to this particular Easter message that God raises up both dead bodies and dead spirits. God brought you here today to hear this Easter message. It is time. It is time for you to get up and walk spiritually. It is time for you to awaken from your spiritual coma.

In conclusion, how about my own obituary? Last Easter, as many of you know, I was in the hospital and had just escaped the jaws of death. I could have died a year ago but didn’t. God had another plan. Instead, a new valve was put into my heart. A new pacemaker was installed in my heart. But I knew how close I had been to death. Therefore, it is somewhat easy to imagine my own obituary in the paper from a year ago. Maybe in the Seattle Times.  It may have sounded like this: “Edward F. Markquart of Des Moines Washington died this past Thursday at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma of a rare infection of the heart. He was born in Jackson, Minnesota on July 19, 1940. He graduated from Jackson High School, St. Olaf College and Luther Theological Seminary, all in Minnesota. He was a resident of Des Moines and the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Des Moines, for the past twenty-seven years. He was preceded in death by his mother and father. He is survived by his wife, Janet, of Des Moines, three children, Anne, Joel and Nathan, a son in law, a daughter in law, two grandchildren, all of Des Moines. He is also survived by one brother, two sisters, and numerous nieces and nephews. Memorials may be sent to Lutheran World Relief in care of Grace Lutheran Church.” 

I am here to tell you this Easter morning that that obituary would have been wrong!!! That obituary would have been wrong because it did not tell the whole story. There would have been nothing in my obituary that I was not dead, that I shall never die, but live forever. There would have been nothing in that obituary that quoted Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die.” … You see, Jesus’ obituary in the Nazareth News was wrong; my obituary would have been wrong; and your obituary will be wrong. Your obituary won’t tell the whole story. It won’t tell the Easter story of God’s resurrection power that takes dead bodies and dead spirits and raises them up to new life.  It won’t tell the story of how God makes new men and women, boys and girls, so strong that they changed the course of human history.  I am here to tell you that the obituary was wrong. Amen.

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