In Memoriam + Martin Herman Laufer (Committal)
Abraham Lincoln Nation Cemetery
1 Corinthians 15:51-57
August 30, 2016
Behold! I tell you a mystery.
The words of Paul the apostle are some 1950 years old. What he wrote was something that defied human reason when he wrote it to the Greek Christians in Corinth. A mystery. Today we experience the weight of that word: “mystery.” Christians say the words of the creed every Sunday, but seldom do we confront the weight of what we say we believe like we do here, in a cemetery, with a casket before us holding the body of one we loved. “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
It should not come as a surprise that many people simply don’t believe it, and even we who say that we do
believe it do so with trembling, fear, and weakness. Who has the ability to believe this mystery? No one. This kind of faith is itself a miracle as great as the resurrection. This is not a sentimental faith. It looks at this coffin and says, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Martin Herman Laufer was a gifted man. He lived a long life, nearly a century long. He lived a life of exceptional devotion and service to Christ’s Church. He had the ability to lead and influence people, and those abilities are evidenced by his work in the armed service, as a business owner, a salesman, as a leader of the churches in which he was a member. He touched many people’s lives; many people at St. Peter talked to me about how he was an example to them of how to live as a Christian. My wife and I remember the kindness he showed us when we arrived newly married to St. Peter only a little while before he moved to Litchfield.
Of course, we know all too well that a person’s gifts, abilities, kindness are not enough to overcome death and the grave. “The wise man dies just like the fool” (Ecclesiastes 2:16). So death makes ordinary people out of us all.
Since this is true, how can we listen to these words today and apply them to Marty: “Death is swallowed up in victory”? Surely these words, if they apply to any human being, are beyond the reach of ordinary people?
They are. But there is something that is drawn over the lives of ordinary people that puts this victory shout on Paul’s lips. After a strange experience he had while travelling to Damascus, he spent his life on what his former colleagues considered a fool’s errand or worse. He spent his life preaching a man who had died the way ordinary people do—or really a far worse way. He spent his life preaching Jesus, who suffered and died by crucifixion, a death reserved for slaves and criminal. There was no glory, no beauty, no heroism in a crucifixion—only pain, ugliness, weakness, and shame. Yet, Paul preached, God raised this Jesus from the dead. He went around preaching the shameful death of this Jesus, a death that filled his hearers with horror. And he went around preaching Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, an idea that the Greeks considered ridiculous.
Yet in the suffering of this Jesus, said Paul, God had taken on Himself human weakness, our guilt and our curse. In this death—all too ordinary, this all too familiar suffering, humiliation, and dying—God was present. Jesus was the Creator of human beings now become a human being, sharing our weakness, our shame, our death. In His resurrection the guilt and the death of all people—the noble and the base, the honorable and the shameful, the weak and the strong—was broken. And those who believe in this Jesus preached by Paul, and who were baptized into Him, have their lives caught up in Him and hidden in Him.
Over Marty’s entire life God drew the life of Jesus, the cross of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus. Long ago, Marty’s life was caught up in another life and another death—that of Jesus—when, in 1918, water and the name of the Triune God poured over his head.
Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable…Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.
The hope God gives us today for Marty is the same hope He holds out to everyone here who is a sinner and is subject to death. Our hope is that God has entered into our lowliness, suffered our death, and risen again in righteousness. And that we who are men like any other are victorious, and will be victorious over death, because God drew the life of Jesus, the cross of Jesus, over our lives when we were baptized. Our victory is not in heroic works or achievements on earth, not in our piety or holiness on earth; our victory is the lowliness, the agony and death of Jesus, and His resurrection.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria