That is why we dance on graves. That is why we smile in the midst of sorrowful tears. That is why we retell old stories and share humorous memories.
very funeral sermon should be an Easter sermon. What else should we talk about? The person who is about to be buried? That seems nice, but I think that’s a win for the devil. The devil doesn’t tempt, haunt, and harass the faithful with overt violence, sex, and greed as much as he does with sweetness and light, or at least that is how he wants to be viewed. The devil wants to wear the mask of God. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, after all. He wants to appear as sweetness and light. It’s his best trick. If all is right with you, then there is no need for God. No need for salvation. No need for help. No need for faith.
But the devil has a problem, and it’s a big one. What is he supposed to do with death? Eternal death is his goal, but no one willingly signs up for this. So he has to cover death. He has to put a mask on it. He needs you to believe that it is no big deal, that it is sweetness and light. When a Christian funeral turns into a memorial service, the devil wins. A memorial service is a memory service. It is a looking-back service. “She was so nice.” “He’s fishing in heaven right now.” “Here is a great memory of Uncle Frank.” “A funny story about grandpa.” “I can smell grandma’s cookies right now.” But these flowers and platitudes, eulogies and cards are not good enough; they are a victory for the devil.
If all is right with you, then there is no need for God. No need for salvation. No need for help. No need for faith.
As we look at Ezekiel’s prophecy, a terrifying but passionate account, we hardly read about reminiscing. Ezekiel and the people of Judah were facing death. The death of their nation. The death of their way of life. The death of their soldiers. They even faced the possibility of their own deaths. Does Ezekiel tell stories of the glory of David and Solomon, the past of Israel? Is there any talk about flower arrangements? Does he provide vague notions of memories living on in our hearts? No, he looks forward. Perhaps this is the key to a funeral sermon: to look forward instead of backward. “Run the race,” St. Paul says, “by looking forward, not back. Keep your eye on the prize” (see Philippians 3). What a victory for the devil when we are satisfied with a mere eighty, ninety, or a hundred years! What a trick he plays on us when he convinces us to take death in stride. What a win it is for the devil when he coaxes us into believing all is well when it is clearly not. Did Jesus die and rise for such shallowness? Did Paul face death multiple times and preach a resurrection from the dead in the face of scoffers so Christians preachers could deliver trite five-minute eulogies? I think not. I know not. Every funeral sermon should be a resurrection sermon. We will see this person again. Period. We look forward, not backward.
So here is Ezekiel. The people of Israel had been carried off into exile. Death had occurred. No doubt, the vision of soldiers lying on the battlefield was imprinted on the souls of the survivors. Nightmares haunted many of them I am sure of it. What of their nation? What of their homes? Both lay in ruins. Memories meant nothing to them; these were now salt in open wounds.
So the Lord led the prophet out to see a valley, a valley of dry bones. The Spirit led Ezekiel to a quiet battlefield strewn with the bones of Israel’s soldiers, bone defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. And the Lord asks, “Son of Man, can these bones live?” “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know,” was Ezekiel’s answer (Ezek 37:3).
God’s response was to show Ezekiel the dead would rise. “Prophesy, to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD’” (Ezek 37:5-6).
Because Christ lives, we live. Because Christ lives, we will see the faithful again. And that is so much better than a mere memory.
And as the prophet spoke, there was a rattling sound. Bones came together, and tendons appeared. Skin covered the bones and tendons. Finally, the breath of life was breathed into these bodies, and they lived. The army of Israel lived. It was a two-fold prophecy. First, the nation of Israel would return from Babylonian captivity and resettle the Promised Land. Second, the dead would rise on the Last Day. This word has creative power. It created this world out of nothing. It makes dead hearts alive in faith, anThe word of God promised a resurrection. And it would be the word of God that would accomplish this miraculous feat.d it will, IT WILL, bring back your loved ones from the grave. And there will be a rattling sound as bones are put back together with bones.
And that is why we dance on graves. That is why we smile in the midst of sorrowful tears. That is why we retell old stories and share humorous memories. Not to merely remember the departed. Not to merely soothe the pain. Not to merely put on a good face. But rather because there will be a rattling sound. We preach a promised resurrection. Because Christ lives, we live. Because Christ lives, we will see the faithful again. And that is so much better than a mere memory.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Michael Berg is an assistant professor of theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee, WI. He is married to Amanda and together they have three daughters: Abigail, Noelle, and Sophia. Michael is a graduate of Martin Luther College, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, the International Academy of Apologetics, Human Rights, and Evangelism, and Biola University.