Our text today is the thirteenth Psalm, which we just heard a bit of, in the introit:
How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? how long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed ‘against him”; lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
This is Your Word heavenly Father. Sanctify us by Your Truth. Your Word is Truth. Amen.
Fellow redeemed: Will your Lord forget you forever? Given the state of your heart, doesn’t He have plenty of reason to abandon you? When you consider your sin, hopelessness can loom very large indeed. When you consider the suffering you may be enduring, as your life may be surrounded by crisis, your loved ones fall to serious sickness, death visiting all too often the ones so dear to you. You may be heartsick as you suffer through the consequences of all manner of dreadful afflictions. Your personal hopes and dreams may seem a cruel joke. Life has revealed itself to you as only so much suffering in this dim and dying world. Why shouldn’t the Lord forget you forever, when everything and everybody else seems to have done so, and you are tempted to despair. If this short life is so sad, why should you expect anything better to greet you in eternity? Your heart resonates with the words of the psalmist: “How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? how long will my enemy be exalted over me?”
Poor Lazarus, covered with sores, invalid, laid at the rich man’s gate, hungered, starved, hearing, smelling, the sumptuous feasting within, greeted only with the rough tongues of dogs lapping at his open wounds, forgotten, abandoned, suffered. And things only grew worse, didn’t they? The rich man ignored him as he lay there, sick, weak, starving, dying. “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily?” But against all this, contrary to every fact in his life, Lazarus hoped in the kind mercies of the Lord. And in this hope, that poor man died.
The rich man was not to be despised for his wealth, but his self centeredness was his sin. He did not lift his eyes to inquire over the pitiful moan from the beggar at the gate. He could without any loss of comfort have had him fed, had him clothed, given him simple comfort. But instead, the man looked only to his own desires, and trusting only in his riches, also died.
Would the Lord forget Lazarus forever? It surely seemed he had been forgotten in this world.
When Jesus told this story, the fate of such indigent beggars was simple: dying, they would be carted out of town, and dumped onto the always smoldering trash heap below Jerusalem called Gehanna. There the exposed would be left to the flies, rats, the dogs, no longer only licking, and perhaps, to the flames. In short order, nothing would remain.
Will you be forgotten forever in your misery?
Jesus tells us that when Lazarus died, something astonishing happened. The holy angels fetched him to Abraham’s bosom. There he received comfort.
Even as the world disposed of Lazarus, the angels bore him home, to Abraham’s bosom.
Every faithful Jew knew that Abraham was their ancestral father. The entire nation of Israel descends from him. But what does this mean, that angels carried Lazarus to his bosom? Is it, as our translation puts it, merely to be delivered to his side? Or is there something more?
Will you be forgotten forever?
When Jesus first told this story, there was something interesting going on in the way the dead were treated. Yes, the poor beggars without families were tossed on the trash heap. But most people were washed, wrapped in a long linen shroud, and laid to rest in tombs. You are familiar with this, for that is what was done for Jesus after He suffered and died on the cross. But in those days, tombs were rather large man-made caverns, with an outer chamber for preparation, and then for mourning, and then an inner chamber, with a shelf where the dead were laid. But then there were niches in the walls of that inner chamber, where stone boxes were kept. After a couple of years, the bones of the dead would be collected carefully from the shelf, and placed into one of these boxes, which would then be labelled. So long as the family kept that tomb, their dead were not forgotten.
But there was a problem when it came to small children. A little one, from infancy through his first few years, if he died, would leave very fragile, only partially formed bones behind. And they were so small, it really didn’t make sense to make an ossuary (that’s what the bone boxes were called) for him. Would the little ones of Israel be forgotten? No. They were loved, and their short lives cherished, even as we love and cherish our children today. So the Jews in those days did something different. When the bones of the babies were gathered from the resting shelf in the family tomb, grandpa’s box would be slid from its place and opened. The little bones would be gently placed in the rib-cage of his ancestor. The box would receive his name, next to grandpa’s (or grandma’s or another close family member).
Do you understand? Lazarus was taken by the heavenly angels and placed in the bosom of Father Abraham. He would not be forgotten. Even as the world would move on, insensible of the loss, Lazarus was remembered.
In this sad world, Lazarus’ body was disposed of, and the rich man doubtless was placed in a fine tomb befitting his station and wealth. But the holy angels do God’s will. So Lazarus was remembered, and placed in the most honored, loving, intimate association with his ancestor, Father Abraham. The Lord does not forget His own. He remembers them, and He keeps them to wait with all the saints who have gone before— to wait for the Last Day, when the dead in Christ shall rise, and this corruption shall be made incorrupt, and this mortal shall put on immortality.
This is what I want you to get. Very often we hear a lot about the rich man, and his conversation with Abraham. But right now, today, I want you to understand that Lazarus was truly remembered by our Lord, who sent angels to tend to him.
And I want you to take note too, that this story is not called a ‘parable’ which is a yarn to make a point. Jesus tells the story matter-of-factly. This appears, in fact, to be a matter He is simply relating as it happened. Remember, Jesus is fully true God. He knows what happens to those the world may take little note of, nor long remember. Jesus remembers.
In your sorrow, in your pain, in the miseries which you may endure, will you be forgotten? The world may forget you, it is true. The world will surely forget me too. But what of it? Your Lord remembers you. Don’t you know that even now He has given His angels charge over you, who always behold His face? And for Jesus’ sake, in Whom you trust, and in Whom you are baptized and grafted into Him, and Who feeds you His body and blood, that you participate already in Him now (though the world has no time for such stuff), for Jesus’ sake, you are not forgotten. You are by grace kept now through faith, by Word and Sacrament, no matter what else befalls you in this vale of tears, and soon, when you fall asleep in hope and trust in Him, He will keep you faithfully to the Last Day, when with gleaming eyes, and lungsfull of living breath, you shall be raised with all the saints to greet your Savior.
You are remembered for Jesus’ sake. And with the psalmist you too may praise Him, saying “But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” Soon we all shall be joined with the choir of saints and angels and all the host of heaven. But even now, with this great good news, that Jesus’ has given His life into death that you are forever redeemed and rescued back into His loving arms, even now you too may join, rehearsing already the ongoing song of the saints, rejoicing that you are not forgotten but are remembered. You are by faith already at peace in the bosom of father Abraham. You are by faith, already living eternally. And the song of praise will never die. Long after this life and world are passed, the song will endure.
Lord, let at last Thine angels come,/ To Abram’s bosom bear me home,/ That I may die unfearing;/ And in its narrow chamber keep/ My body safe in peaceful sleep/ Until Thy reappering./ And then from death awaken me/ That these mine eyes with joy may see,/ O Son of God, Thy glorious face,/ My Savior and my Fount of grace./ Lord Jesus Christ,/ My prayer attend, my prayer attend,/ And I will praise Thee without end.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.