By Matthew C. Harrison
The story the world tells is not hopeful. Every day there’s something new to fear, some way your life is outside your control, some grave threat to your person or property, some variation of death. It’s easy to get caught up in the hand-wringing, to let our Christian hope be drowned out by the constant cacophony and chaos.
But we know a better story. Every November begins with the Feast of All Saints on Nov. 1. Every time I consider those who have preceded us in life, in faith and in death, I remember the words of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1–2)
All our loved ones whom we rightly — but not hopelessly — grieve on All Saints’ Day still surround us. Jesus teaches that our guardian angels (Luther believed Matthew 18 teaches we all — not just children — have a guardian angel) protect us while beholding the face of our Father in heaven. So we sing “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven” as Christ comes to meet us and feed us with His body and blood. While they surround us, they do not distract us. Rather, like the crowds that swell as the finish line of a race approaches, they sharpen our focus on what lies ahead. So we fix our eyes on Jesus, who endured a shameful death on the cross, and whose victory over the grave guarantees our own bodily resurrection.
The end of our story is guaranteed. The Lord who endured death and triumphed over the grave, who in Baptism joined us into His very death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3–4; Col. 2:12; Titus 3), will not abandon us to the grave. We know the end of the story, which gives us courage to face the days between now and then.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Heb. 12:3–4)
The Lord’s church is the original resistance movement. She has always resisted the hopelessness, faithlessness and lovelessness of a culture of death. Everything the Lord’s church does is founded on this resurrection courage. If nothing can change the future of those who belong to the crucified and risen Christ, then we can face any trial.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:12–14)
The church, so far as she is Christ’s, never enculturates herself; even as she brings the Gospel to every tribe and nation in languages and ways in which her message can be received, the church is her own culture. Hers is a culture of life, of forgiveness, of rock-solid hope, of courage. Think of what she does with this courage and invites you to do with this courage.
If I didn’t believe in the resurrection, I would tell every married couple not to have babies. Don’t bring more lives into this sad, dying world.
If I didn’t believe in the resurrection, I wouldn’t waste a minute going to church. Don’t give attention, time or money to a merely human institution built on a false premise (1 Cor. 15:12–19).
If I didn’t believe in the resurrection, I would tell fathers not to teach the catechism to their children. Don’t squander the fleeting moments you have with your children on such antiquated fairy tales.
If I didn’t believe in the resurrection, I wouldn’t tell anyone about the death of Jesus on the cross or invite them to receive the forgiveness given out daily in His church, which Luther in the Large Catechism says is “the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, and through which He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it” (LC II 42). Don’t be the weirdo always talking about Jesus at the water cooler, I’d say.
If I didn’t believe in the resurrection, I wouldn’t care for my aging parents. Don’t spend time with those approaching an inescapable end.
If I didn’t believe in the resurrection, I would grasp for every narcotic to numb the pain of this hopeless life. Don’t endure any unnecessary suffering. Suffering without resurrection is pointless.
But I believe in the resurrection. I believe Jesus rose from the dead. And I believe all who die in Him will rise with Him on the Last Day (1 Cor. 15; John 11). I believe in the resurrection, so I see the beauty of each precious, new life as a person who will rise on the Last Day.
I believe in the resurrection, so I let the first hours of the first day of the week be filled with the Word, saved for going to church.
I believe in the resurrection, so I think the holiest, manliest thing men can do is instruct their families in the catechism.
I believe in the resurrection, so I want to share this hope with any I encounter, even if I’m the weirdo at the water cooler.
I believe in the resurrection, so I find courage in caring for my aging family members, and I know it is a privilege to care for those who have cared so much for me.
I believe in the resurrection, so I can endure suffering without needing to escape. Suffering sharpens my hope for what is to come, for resurrection. And it reminds me that the kingdom of this world was never meant to satisfy me eternally. I am awaiting another kingdom. And that kingdom cannot be shaken.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. … Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:22–24, 28–29)
Take courage, dear friends. Death is undone. Join the resistance and do so with joy. Resurrection courage is yours in Jesus.
Posted Oct. 27, 2022