From a funeral sermon delivered at Grace Lutheran Church, Sleepy
Eye, Minn. Paul Fleischer is pastor. Please refer to Luke 2:25-32.
A few years ago a religious magazine had an editorial entitled “Playing With Death.” It told of a fifth grade teacher in Gainsville, Florida who was sure she had found the way to remove the mystery and dread of death from children’s minds. She took the children to a cemetery to let them play around the gravestones, read the epitaphs, and make tombstone rubbings. Back in the classroom the children would write humorous epitaphs and make out their wills. Thus, this teacher contended, the children were learning about death, but at the same time found amusement and entertainment in the process. A newspaper headline telling of this story read: “Death, where is thy sting? Not in Gainesville, Florida.”
Of course, we are in favor of teaching children (and adults for that matter) about death and how to face it. But making a game of death and ignoring its dreadful realities can only leave young and old alike tragically unprepared for the hour when death strikes.
By contrast we have the example of faithful Simeon, who realized death was inevitable. That is not so unusual, you say, for everyone realizes that. In a sense perhaps, but for many the outlook is fatalistic. For many life is but a chance happening, and so is death. Whatever will be, will be, so let’s “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.” It’s all in the cards, or in the stars, or in the Fates. Do you know that in ancient mythology there were three “Fates” or goddesses? The first spun the thread of life; the second determined the length; and the third cut it off.
How does the attitude of Simeon and of all true believers differ from such fatalism? The clue is in the devout man’s words: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word.” Simeon knew God’s Word. He knew that man had been made in God’s image, and that death was never intended to be the lot of the foremost of God’s creatures. He also knew that death entered as the result of the Fall into sin. He knew that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20). Simeon knew that not only temporal death, but eternal death is, by rights, the lot of sinful, rebellious mankind.
Therein lies the dreadful, fearful reality of the grim reaper — a reality that playing leapfrog over tombstones will not remove.
But Simeon went on: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace….” What stands behind his readiness to die “in peace”? Note the words: “For my eyes have seen Your salvation.” Not only did he know God’s Word about sin and its wages. Simeon also knew, and had long waited for, Him whom God would send as the sinner’s Savior. He knew the many Old Testament prophecies which spoke of this coming Savior. For example, he knew how God had promised that the Seed of the Woman (Jesus Christ) would come to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). He knew the prophecy of Jacob: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes” (Gen. 49:10). Shiloh, literally the “Rest-Giver,” the Author and Source of true rest, the Prince of Peace through whom all mankind would have peace with God — He it was for Whom this just and devout man had been waiting.
And now God granted Simeon to see with his own eyes, and hold in his own arms, this Savior! No wonder he was ready to die “in peace”!
A little later Simeon told Mary: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Simeon reminded Mary how her virgin-born Son would die on the accursed tree of the cross, not for His own sins but for the sins of the world. This would bring sorrow to her heart. But only momentarily, for in the death of her Son and God’s, sin, death, and hell, would be conquered! Yes, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
That is why we say that — in Gainesville, Florida and anywhere else in this world — Jesus Christ is the answer to how the sting of death is removed.
I see some children here today for this funeral of your loved one. Children, it is all right to be sad at a funeral. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, wept at the grave of His friend Lazarus. Yes, we miss our loved ones when they die. But we also know that if they believed in Jesus they go to be with Him in heaven. And we also know that as Christians we need not fear our own death. Yes, we are sinners, and therefore we too must die. But God sent His Son Jesus to conquer sin and death for us. Jesus suffered and died for our sins, and then rose again from the dead! And He tells His believers: “Because I live, you too shall live” (Jn. 14:19). What a wonderful life waits for us and all believers in heaven with Jesus!
Parents and grandparents, isn’t this what we want to teach our children and how we want to prepare them for death? They and we all need to learn that the sting of death and the apparent victory of the grave have been overcome by our Savior. As St. Paul says: “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Cor. 15:20-23). See how in the face of death St. Paul could and did have the child-like hope and confidence of faithful Simeon.
As Simeon prophesied, many would be offended, for they do not want to admit their sin and need for a Savior. May we not be among them, but rather may we, like Simeon, take this little child into our arms by faith, and receive the wondrous eternal salvation that Jesus — and only Jesus — gives. Thus when our time comes we too shall depart in peace according to God’s saving Word.