Ps. 16 (v. 10); 1 Peter 1:3-9; Lk. 24:13-35.
Opened, [Jesus] took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures” (vv. 30-32).
Dear family and friends of our “parted” brother Wally; I use “parted” advisedly, that is how St. Luke described Jesus’ formal ascension on clouds amid angelic assurances of return on the Last Day (Lk. 24:51).
However, with the Emmaus disciples our Gospel employs the language, not of parting but “abiding” presence, “he vanished out of their sight” or “he became invisible from them” (vv. 29, 31). St. Peter as well uses presence talk, “Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy” (1 Peter 1:8).
As for Wally, he is “parted” from us, to return on the Last Day with a great cloud of faithful witnesses in the General Resurrection. God’s word directs that which we behold in faith; first, the manifest Word on account of sin, “dust thou art and to dust you shall return”. Paraphrasing Marc Antony, “We come to bury Wally, not to praise him”.
And yet, there is more to Wally’s witness than the dusty warning of Ash Wednesday. Today Lent gives way to Jesus’ Resurrection, God’s First Fruit into whose “abiding” presence Wally was baptized. We are given pause to reflect on Wally’s greater testimony, that “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints”; how so?
If the Ascension leaves us staring into space as Jesus “parted” the Mt. of Olives; St. John, in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, revealed the majesty of the man Jesus coronated and enthroned to the right hand of Power, worthy to receive and open from the Ancient of Days the seven-sealed Scroll.
Here we return to our question; how is Wally’s death precious in the sight of the Lord? Precisely in this, Wally’s story is part and parcel of Jesus’ Scroll opened at the right hand of the Father.
Fulfilled here is Jesus’ promise, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 10:32). What is Wally’s story; other than: having been baptized is of a piece with Jesus’ crucified, risen, and exalted flesh!
A pastor in his pulpit is like a stylist, an instrument for writing, whose preaching inscribes God’s Speech onto receptive hearts for delivering mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life by the power of his Word.
From the time of his Baptism, Wally, through gospel delivery of word and Sacrament advanced from faith to faith, magnifying the Lord’s gracious character. Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day Wally’s unflagging attendance to Scripture and Supper opened his eyes to God’s abiding presence.
As the Lord taught his word to the Emmaus disciples on journey from Jerusalem, so Wally’s heart burned every Lord’s Day, which is to say, from expounded Holy Writ and the Lord’s shared Meal of presence revealed, my privilege to deliver. In glory, Wally’s baptismal life, has been recorded on his mind and heart for understanding heaven’s “new song” in the new creation.
Today Wally abides, as he lived, in a place prepared by Jesus within his courts, through his flesh, for the myriad saints beneath heaven’s Incense Altar, attending the holy conversation of the Trinity, confirming their fidelity to the grace of God.
Upon Jesus’ opening the sealed Scroll from the Ancient of Days, Wally’s story of baptismal death to life, trusting in God, as Jesus trusted on the cross, is part of Jesus’ revelation to his Father, making Wally’s death precious in the sight of the Lord.
Beneath heaven’s Incense Altar the prayers of the saints continue the church’s new song of what has been eternally written on the hearts and minds of the saints, “the mystery of Christ preached to principalities and powers in heavenly places” (Eph. 3:9, 10).
This day Wally’s testimony to God’s work in Christ for salvation, and his thanksgiving to the Father for his love has come to fruition; Jesus now reveals the contents of the Scroll, written on Wally’s heart, that “[Jesus’] blood didst ransom men for God … and hast made them a kingdom and priests to our God”.
If you are asked what you see in the death of God’s saints that make them precious, then consider Wally; permit your pastor to inscribe on your hearts God’s word to the praise of Jesus’ salvation and the Father’s glory; this is memorial enough. Amen.
But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us.
R: Thanks be to Thee, O Lord!