In Memoriam + Harry E. Bitter
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
September 26, 2014
Central Passage
John 10:27-28

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“My sheep hear my voice and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish.” (St. John 10:27-28a)

One might call to question our Lord Jesus here. For we are here to bury one of His sheep who heard His voice and followed Him; one to whom the Master has promised eternal life but one, it seems, that has in fact perished. One might hear these words of Jesus with suspicion, wondering how it is that the Lord says that His sheep will never perish when we have buried so many of them.

Some may placate the sceptic and say that what is meant is that they will not perish in the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. And to that we can say both “Thanks be to God,” and “Amen.” But that is not all that it means. It means too that even though they die yet shall they live.

For our dear friend and brother who lies before us is not dead but sleeping. Just like the little girl of whom we are told in the gospels. The Lord Jesus came to her and said to those who were weeping and crying: “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping” (St. Luke 8:52). Those that were gathered responded to our Lord’s words with laughter. Just as many respond to His Church with laughter when she says that those that fall asleep in Christ shall live again. What other response is there but laughter at so preposterous a suggestion that those who are dead shall rise; that those who have breathed their last will breathe anew; that those whose eyes have grown dim and gone dark will see the light of life; that those who can no longer hear our voices will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.

A wild idea indeed; so wild that many that call themselves Christian have abandoned it altogether and now think only of a spiritual or bodiless resurrection. They put their loved ones in eternity before the Judgment Day when the King shall come to separate the sheep from the goats. Too many consider that death is the portal to eternity when in truth Jesus is the portal to eternity. For we shall not all die but we shall all be changed. The mortal must put on immortality and the perishable must put on the imperishable.

And just as too many consider death to be the gateway to paradise, though the true gateway to paradise is Christ, so too, too many think that gaining paradise is a result of a life well lived. “Try your best,” the pithy saying goes, “and God will do the rest.” Not so. For what is our best? How many have said in the past few days that this beloved brother of ours was the best of the best, a good man by all accounts. And so he was. And that may be good for him, but what about for you? If our brother here was the best then that means we are not. What hope remains for us?

Who will save us from this body of death? Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus.

No one gains the heavenly places by their own works or merit. Not even a little bit. Harry does not have a different reward for his faith than you have. For his Christ is your Christ. And Christ came that you, that Harry, that all people would have life and have it more abundantly.

The same promise of salvation is for you that is for Harry. It is the promise that whoever looks upon the Son of Man shall be saved. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. The one that cries out for mercy is heard for the Lord hears the cries of the afflicted and answers them. And His answer is Jesus, the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord of lords and King of kings who comes with healing in His wings.

Jesus is the answer to death because He lives. And the life He lives, He lives for all. For He is the Life of the world. And through Him all things are made new, even those we bury.

So the apostle writes that we are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:11). The life of Jesus is given to you in Holy Baptism, being buried with Christ and raised with Him so that the life you live is not your own but Christ’s. The bread that we break and the cup that we bless is the our participation in the  life of Christ and by which we share His glory as He Himself says that He is glorified in us (St. John 17:10, 22).

And on the Last Day His glory shall be made known to all men by the resurrection of the dead and bestowal of life to those who call upon His name and so shall be saved from their enemies, even death.

The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,

      and exalted be the God of my salvation—

Who delivered me from my enemies;

      yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me;

       you rescued me from death. (Psalm 18:46, 48)

+ In Nomie Iesu +