Articles

Dying to Christ

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“In that day, says the LORD, courage shall fail both king and princes;
the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD, surely thou hast utterly deceived this people
and Jerusalem, saying, `It shall be well with you’;
whereas the sword has reached their very life.”
My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain!
Oh, the walls of my heart!
My heart is beating wildly;
I cannot keep silent;
for I hear the sound of the trumpet,
the alarm of war.
Disaster follows hard on disaster,
the whole land is laid waste.
Suddenly my tents are destroyed,
my curtains in a moment.
How long must I see the standard,
and hear the sound of the trumpet?
“For my people are foolish, they know me not;
they are stupid children, they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil, but how to do good they know not.”
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and lo, there was no man,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the LORD, before his fierce anger.
For thus says the LORD, “The whole land shall be a desolation;
yet I will not make a full end.
For this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above be black;
for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.” (Jer 4:9–10, 19–28, RSV)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

“My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly.” The time of death and suffering is coming. We hear the warnings but we do not want to believe. The words of the prophet speak all too directly to what we will feel when the standard, the black flag of death flies over every body left on the ground. We don’t want to believe what is coming. People’s live will be laid to waste. Human life will come to an end at some point for all of us. It may come from the sword or it may come from the clock. We can try to insulate ourselves, to build up our defenses or to seek out the latest technological aids, but it will arrive. In a world of sin where the children of creation are wise in doing evil but do not know how to do good, death and destruction will come. And a prophet is sent out to warn us of what will happen. To warn us of what we will see and feel around us and in us. He warns us of the Horseman and the Archer from which we will not be able to hide, but we do not believe that we will experience death. The words of the prophet are not the ones that we want to hear or believe.

“My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly.” Shortly after I arrived at Ft. Lewis, Washington I heard a prophesy of death. I was working in the Battalion operations office for a few weeks waiting for a platoon leader position to open up down at the Company level. One afternoon the operations sergeant major came into the office talking on his cell phone. An operations sergeant major is one of the two most senior enlisted advisors within a combat unit, someone who gives insight into how the plans and orders created by the commanders will play out on the ground when the soldiers put them into action. He was asking the person on the phone for the name of a local shop that made military memorabilia. Items like banners or plaques or retirement tributes. There were only a couple of us in the office at the time, and he didn’t think anything of us hearing the conversation when he told the person on the phone that we were going to need to order stands for memorials, the kind that are meant to hold a rifle vertically with its muzzle pointed towards the earth. “A one, a couple of twos, and a four . . . there’s gonna be kids who aren’t coming home from this one.” He needed to order them now so that they could be packed up and shipped to Afghanistan so that they would be ready to use when the time came. A four? You could tell us all about the realities of war, but deep in my heart I could not truly believe that we would need them. The prophet warns us of what is coming. We will meet death and destruction, but the future which is foretold is not real until you see seven rifles pointed towards the earth. “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly.” When the wave of reality comes in that you are facing your very real and immediate death, your heart will beat wildly and you will feel pain, and even before it happens you can know that you are being destroyed.

Just as Jeremiah saw the signs of sin all around him, we see them today. And the ultimate end in a world of sin is death. The earth void, and the heavens without light. The mountains shaking and the even the birds in the air fleeing for safety. Fruitful land made barren and cities laid to waste. The whole of the earth shall be a desolation. But! When death arrives God is not making the full end of his people. For the “hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” The covenant with God is broken and he executes his Law. He brings us to the place where all we can see is our sure and certain death; and when we know that this is what awaits us, it is there that we meet our Saviour, the Son, Jesus Christ, who is possessed of the same creating life as the Father. In the face of death, the One whom we may hear and believe speaks to us in order that we may have eternal life. The promise of the resurrection in Jesus Christ. The eternal Word fulfills the final and ultimate prophecy.

Jeremiah prophesied of the coming time when the whole earth would be formless and void. But our lives are not formless and void. Our lives bear the shape of the world we live in. As much as we may seek to have our lives shaped in our faith, we will always be recognized as the sinners that we are. We pray for the time to come when we will again be formless and void, for this is the time in which the Spirit comes and hovers over the face of the water. This is the time when God makes his new creation. When we make the sign of the Cross and we remember our Baptism, then we know. We know that the prophecy of ultimate death has been fulfilled. We know that we are dead to sin and now we are always being made new. We have been born anew, re-created into life with our Lord. Every day we are made new in Christ Jesus. Every day we die into him. Jeremiah spoke of the destruction which comes “crash hard on crash,” and “the whole land is laid waste.” And in this image of the coming destruction at the hands of the army, we may hear and see the coming of the flood.

The time of destruction is coming. And it comes over us day after day, wave after every drowning and new-life-giving wave. Water covering the barren desert of our lives and washing away the old Adam. The holy wave of God’s almighty power coming to destroy everything which keeps us from him. Water that comes over us and sinks so deep into the ground that there is no place that we can hide from it. For even when we are put in the ground, the water of life will come and find us, for the hour is surely coming when even all those who are in the tombs will hear the voice of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Hear the prophecy of God’s destruction and know that this is how we will truly live. Amen.

Featured Image: Marc Chagall (1887–1985), The Calling of Jeremiah (1956), detail. Photo: Jim Forest; CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.

Hans Tolpingrud

Hans Tolpingrud is a former U.S. Army Infantry officer and a veteran of Afghanistan. He is a graduate of the North American Lutheran Seminary at Trinity School for Ministry (M.Div. ’16) and Valparaiso University (B.A. ’06). He is currently serving as Vicar at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Yorktown, Texas and is a candidate for ordination in the North American Lutheran Church.