November 24th, 2013
Last Sunday of the Church Year
It is the last Sunday in the church year, and as such the “last things” take center stage. Today, especially, the Gospel reading sets before us some “last words”.
I sometimes wonder what my last words will be. You know, will they be a fond farewell with my family gathered around my bedside, before I peacefully drift off in the sleep of death. Or will it be something far more mundane, like, “what's for dinner?” or “good night, love you too”?
People are often remembered for their last words – especially when they know they are going to be their last words. It's a last chance to say what is really, really important. Some words of wisdom. Some well-wish for those you care about.
I remember being at the deathbed of one of our elders, who was dying of cancer. He was fairly lucid up until the end. The doctors told him, “say your goodbyes. You have hours left, maybe a day.” Amazing. And I watched as his family came to say their goodbyes, and he gave his final words to them – words that encouraged them to remain in the faith. I thought to myself, that's how I'd like to go.
Last words. Moses speaks some last words in Deuteronomy. He had traveled with the Israelites for 40 years, and he knew the farewell was hastening. As he would not join them in Canaan. But he spoke last words to them, words to remember, before they parted. In fact the whole book of Deuteronomy is just that – Moses' farewell sermon. We might sum it up, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” In other words – Moses' last words were a reminder to the keep hold of the Word of the Lord. We usually hear this reading on Thanksgiving Day, by the way.
Moses would direct us to follow the law. After all, it was Moses who received the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai – and wrote them in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. And these ten commandments leave us with no word of answer regarding our sin. They always have the last word. Do you think you don't covet? Do you think you haven't stolen? Do you really, really have no other gods?
We have no words of excuse. We have no words to free ourselves. We have nothing to say in the face of God's law, except to confess that what it says of us is true. Like David, we could say, “I have sinned against God and man.” No lie will stand, no mitigating circumstances will help our case. The soul that sins shall perish. The wages of sin – death.
But the law of God, while an important word, is not the last word. Even for Moses, he directed the people also to the works and promises of God. Remembering, in word, what he has done throughout their history to bring about their salvation. And looking forward, trusting in the promises, of the even greater salvation that was one day to come.
Then there's Jesus. His last words – well, his last words before death – are often a focus of Christian meditation. 7 Words from the cross, two of them in our reading from Luke today - “Father forgive them...” and “Today you'll be with me in paradise”. Whole sermons have been and should be preached on these last words of our Lord. But not just because they are some of his last – but because they are his words. And man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Speaking of bread, that might take us to some other last words of Jesus – the words of his last will and testament. The words of the Lord's Supper. Take, eat, this is my body... Take drink, this is my blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Do this as often as you drink of it in remembrance of me. Here, the last words of Jesus are established as an ongoing testament and a mysterious application of the forgiveness he won at the cross. These words, they continue to be spoken, in his stead and by his command – when his servants continue to administer his gifts to his people.
For Jesus, his word of forgiveness is the last word on our sin. There are no contingencies. There is no small print. And there's no taking back that word. There's no chance in hell or in heaven that he will ever throw your past sins in your face. For those sins are gone, and they have been, when he spoke the last word on them: “It is finished”. It is the end. Of sin, of guilt, of death.
Oh, no, death doesn't have the last word on Jesus either. In his resurrection he destroys the power death holds over us, too. He is the firstborn of the dead, as Colossians says, in whom we too are delivered from darkness.
And yet in another way, even that isn't the last word he has for us. For on this last Sunday of the church year we are reminded once again to look to the future. To look forward to a day when he comes again in glory, to judge the living and the dead. To look forward, trusting in his word, that he will come back to take us to be with him forever. Looking forward, to a resurrection like his, when we will see him as he is, yes in our flesh, with our own eyes, see God, our Redeemer.
How about that for having the last word.
I'm not one to usually quote John Lennon, but he once said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.”
Well them man who imagined a world without religion got many things wrong. But here he was on to something, in spite of himself. Still he forgot the last words - “in Christ.”
In Christ, everything will be okay in the end. Some of the last words of the bible paint the picture beautifully. No more pain, no more suffering, God himself wiping every tear from our eyes. I'll take those last words. And know that no matter what the law says about my sins. And no matter what death does to me. And no matter what other words are spoken by or to or about me – Jesus Christ has the last word. A word of forgiveness, life and salvation. A word of peace and comfort. A word of hope. A word.. for you.
Believe it for Jesus' sake. Amen.