Later this evening, I’ll be meeting with a family who is grieving the death of their mother. We will plan the details of her memorial service and I will ask a series of questions allowing them to talk about and remember her. This process will prepare me to deliver a funeral sermon which honors the deceased, points to Jesus and provides hope for those who are left behind. This is a pretty regular part of the job.
In an unrelated event, this morning, a member of our church stopped in to talk with me about his upcoming death. He hasn’t set a date and there is no impending reason that he will die soon, but he is past 80 and realizes that his time is shorter than it once was. We talked about the funeral home he has contracted with and what the service might be like. He gave me a three page summary of his life that he had written to help me prepare his eulogy. What he really wanted to know, though, was if it was okay for him to be cremated.
So, death is on my mind.
I often wonder if we do a disservice to the people in our church by not speaking about death as we should. We are people who claim to have been made new. We believe that our old life is gone and that we are no longer like the world. Yet, it seems that we talk and think about death exactly like everyone else. Our new life in Christ changes everything about us, except it seems, our view of death.
Death is the enemy of humanity but it is not an opponent of Jesus’ people. I could argue that death is actually the friend of God’s children.
Paul hinted at this when he said, “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (ultimately, Paul decided he should not depart because he could still provide value to the lives of others AND he submitted the timing of his death to the wisdom of God rather than his own whims and inclinations)
Last week I sat with a friend whose father is failing mentally and physically. He is mourning the loss of his father, even before death strikes its final blow. Together we wrestled through the hard truth that “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15). We fight against the loss we feel when other pass, but at the same time, we must learn to celebrate their homecoming and that they are present with their Father who loves them.
IF we really believe:
- that Jesus has prepared a place for those who believe in Him
- that eternal life is ours because of Christ’s work
- that death is the passageway to the presence of God
- that we will be made whole on the other side of the grave
- that once we die, we will no longer see through a glass darkly
- that the new heaven and new earth are far superior to our current dwelling place
- that there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain
THEN, shouldn’t our attitude toward death reflect hope and joy?
Loss is painful. Whenever a loved-one is lost, pain is expected. We mourn because we will never again, on this earth, experience the connection we once enjoyed. It is good for us to acknowledge this hurt and to sit with one another in these times of loss.
We should prepare our people for these moments by regularly reminding them that death is not the ultimate enemy for those who trust Christ. The grave has, indeed, lost its sting.
Today, I’m thinking about death. This has reminded me that I must do more to preach and teach about life, eternal life particularly. I must equip those in my care with a worldview that embraces death, not as a long separation but as a blessed home going. This is a tool I can give them which will be well-used by all at some point in the future.