Crown of Life
Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe, Faithful Women
25 October 2017
Burial customs vary according to time and place. Increasingly, non-Christian influences are making an impact on the way in which funerals are conducted. Often the central issue highlighted by modern burial customs is the hobby of the deceased, so now there are "biker" funerals, for those who rode motorcycles, or caskets with Yankee Pinstripe linings for the inveterate Yankee partisan, and so on, with greater and greater tastelessness. When there is no God, we are left to deify the person who has died by celebrating their life's passion, no matter how trivial and self centered it may have been. Our view that a god is really a self-centered prig entertaining himself at our expense leads us to presume that inconvenient trivialities passionately held are signs of deity. Of course, there is no end to the cost that could be incurred by such frivolous and ostentatious display of our disregard for the first commandment. Can you imagine what it costs to be buried in a vault big enough for the deceased to be buried atop his Harley? This gives new meaning to the phrase, "being in hog heaven."
But none of this is new. There have always been foolish or ostentatious displays in connection with burial rites. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, pointed out that those outside the faith were ridiculing Christians because they were spending large sums on sumptuous garments for those who were being buried by the church. Apparently golden crowns and beautifully worked silk burial shrouds were the order of the day in the brilliant society of fifth century Constantinople. Bishop John wonderfully preached about a more beautiful burial garment: a quiet life of good works. Ostentatious display is unnecessary where God is still God.
In a sermon on the crucifixion of Christ, Bishop John pointed to the example of Dorcas, whom St. Peter raised from the dead (Acts 9:36-43). During her life she had used her gifts to provide clothing to the widows of her Christian community. When she died those widows came not to adorn Dorcas in sumptuous burial clothes, but came displaying the sumptuous good works produced by faith in Christ. They came adorned by the clothes that Dorcas had herself sewn for them. Thus they attested to the power of the Crucified in the life of this woman who worked so hard to cover their nakedness. She had done what Christ Himself had predicted, "I was naked, and you clothed me" (Mt 25:36). When the faithful die, they are adorned by Christ and the life of good works, which He grants to His children. That is the real crown of life.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   John Chrysostom
"To show true wisdom, both in these respects and in the modesty of the attire used, prepares crowns and praises for us, and all will applaud us, and will admire the power of Christ, and will say, 'Amazing! How great is the power of the Crucified One! He has persuaded those who are perishing and wasting, that death is not death. They therefore do not act as perishing men, but as men who send the dead before them to a distant and better dwelling-place. He has persuaded them that this corruptible and earthly body shall put on a garment more glorious than silk or cloth of gold, the garment of immortality. Therefore they are not very anxious about their burial, but deem a virtuous life to be an admirable shroud.' These things they will say, if they see us showing true wisdom; but if they behold us bent down with grief, playing the woman, placing around troops of female mourners, they will laugh, and mock, and find fault in ten thousand ways, pulling to pieces our foolish expense, our vain labor. With these things we hear all finding fault; and very reasonably. For what excuse can we have, when we adorn a body, which is consumed by corruption and worms, and neglect Christ when thirsting, going about naked, and a stranger?

Let us stop then this vain trouble. Let us perform the obsequies of the departed, as is good both for us and them, to the glory of God: let us do much alms for their sake, let us send with them the best provision for the way. For if the memory of admirable men, though dead, hath protected the living (for it says, 'I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David's sake.' [2Ki 20:6]), much more will alms-doing effect this. For this has raised even the dead, as when the widows stood around showing what things Dorcas had made, while she was with them (Acts 9:39).

When therefore one is about to die, let the friend of that dying person prepare the burial clothes, and persuadethe departing one to leave something to the needy. With these garments let him send him to the grave, leavingChrist his heir. For if they who write kings among their heirs, leave a safe portion to their relations, when one leaves Christ heir with his children, consider how great a good he will draw down upon himself and all his. These are the rightsort of funerals, these profit both those who remain and those who depart. If we are so buried, we shall be glorious at the Resurrection-time. But if caring for the body we neglect the soul, we then shall suffer many terrible things, and incur much ridicule. For neither is it a common unseemliness to depart without being clothed with virtue, nor is the body, though cast out without a tomb, so disgraced, as a soul appearing bare of virtue in that day. This let us put on, this let us wrap around us; it is best to do so during all our lifetime. But if we have in this life been negligent, let us at least at our end be sober, and charge our relations to help us when we depart by alms-doing, that being thus assisted by each other, we may attainto much confidence, through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, dominion, and honor, world without end. Amen." 

John Chrysostom, Homily, 85.6
Acts 9:36-43

Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity.  In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room.  Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, "Please come to us without delay."  So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them.  But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, "Tabitha, arise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.  And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.  And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.  And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner. (ESV)
Lord Jesus, You have adorned Your people with Your righteousness. Grant that we live to glorify Your lavish grace by offering ourselves for the needs of others. Keep us from false and worldly conceptions that we might see to Your honor and glory when we lay to rest those who have died in You. Amen.

For Georgia Buvinghausen, who has undergone surgery, that she might receive a full and complete recovery

For all military personnel who are deployed to foreign fields, that they might be kept safe and might carry out their offices with dignity and attention to duty and honor

For those who know not the grace of Christ, that they might be called from self worship to the worship of the Crucified
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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