Yesterday I spoke at my Grandfather’s funeral (we called him Papa). It was more difficult than I expected…I hadn’t even thought to take tissues with me…boy did I need them. But since I didn’t have a new sermon to share this weeks, I thought I’d post my comments regarding a Christian’s perspective on death. I think the comments are generic enough that others may find them interesting and useful.
Papa was always a story teller, and after he moved to Tassie he had even more time to tell stories. Among other things, I remember him telling us stories about his early days of farming, and how he was involved in innovative farming techniques like artificial insemination. But it’s not this he would like to be remembered for.
We all know Papa’s great love for the veggie garden, and the flowers he grew for Nana, but it’s not this he would want to be remembered for. It’s the friendships he’s made and lives he’s touched that were most important to him.
Papa’s faith has also always been a constant part of his life. He was a mainstay of the Morwell Church of Christ and touched many lives through his involvement in the church’s services and ministries. God was an ever present part of his life, and so it’s appropriate that we take a moment to discuss his faith.
Death has always been part of life. And it’s never been a pleasant part. Different cultures have each developed their own customs and traditions for coping with the struggle of death. Some may consist of dances and processions, others of monuments, quite conversations, and reflection. These customs all share the purpose of expressing the loss, and as much as possible comforting those left behind.
The Bible also acknowledges these universal feelings and concerns and spends considerable time talking about death and the Christians’ attitude toward it. In fact, in addition to the belief that Jesus’ death on the cross removes our sins, at the very centre of our faith is a belief that Jesus’ resurrection 3 days later demonstrates that he defeated death and it gives us hope for something beyond this life. In an often quoted verse the Apostle Paul remarked about Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor. 15:54-55).
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
And yet, we find ourselves here today staring death in the face, experiencing its sting, and perhaps wondering what happened to the victory. Perhaps when we hear talk of Jesus defeating death we feel an expectation to put up a joyful façade, to pretend everything’s okay. Perhaps we feel pressure to smile when our hearts are aching. Perhaps we feel selfish for missing Papa or feel guilty for having regrets for things that happened or words left unsaid.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been giving this subject some thought and I’ve become convinced that we need to acknowledge that death is still our enemy. Death, in and of itself, is not a good thing. It naturally creates loss, separation, emptiness, regrets, suffering, and sorrow. Death was never part of God’s intention for the world. When Jesus defeated death he didn’t eradicate it, or its consequences. Death remains an enemy that hurts and wounds.
What Jesus’ resurrection did ensure was that death could not keep us from God. Death cannot hold us captive in a place that God cannot reach. As we reflect on the life of Papa today and thank God for the different ways he touched our lives we can have confidence that Papa is in a better place with God. We miss him now. We’ll continue to miss him, his stories, his listening, his encouragement, and his advice. That’s normal and okay. But even in the midst of this loss we have confidence that Papa’s faithfulness to God is right now being rewarded.
In 1 Thessalonians 4 God gives us both permission to grieve and a hope for life beyond death.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those have fallen asleep in him.
We grieve today, but not like the rest who have no hope. We believe that because Papa lived in Christ that also in death he is in and with Jesus today.