In Sure and Certain Hope
As we gather tomorrow as a worshiping community to “give witness to the resurrection” and to remember the life of Lynne Ferguson, we do one of the most important and, indeed, one of the most deeply joyful things the church ever does. Christian funerals are a gift from God and in the midst of sorrows, tears, laughter and joy, they should be gratefully accepted as such.
As the church gathers for a funeral, there are three primary tasks before us:
Remembering: Christian funerals are about a life. There is always a name at the top of the worship bulletin at a funeral and two dates separated by a dash. One of the reasons we gather as a community of family, friends and fellow believers is to remember what took place during the dash. In a Christian funeral our remembering is not raw remembering. The details of the dash always vary and some are filled with more sorrow than happiness, more hurt than wholeness. Our remembering, rather, is always tempered by the love and the sovereign grace of God. Horse thief (and, yes, there are Christian horse thieves; I’ve known a few) or saint (and there’s a little bit of horse thief in most saints), we always remember that God was at work in the life between the dates. We don’t always know how or why, but God was at work for his good reasons and always moving towards his good end. Does that mean that we do not acknowledge hurt or misunderstandings? Of course not! In fact, in the end, only Christians are free to acknowledge fully the hurts and misunderstandings because we live in the freedom of grace and forgiveness.
At some funerals the remembering is easier than at others and it easily moves to celebration. Such will be the case tomorrow, I think. But remembering is, in many ways, the least of the three tasks; it should not dominate the service. Funerals where there is only remembering are empty and offer little to those who mourn.
Comforting: Christian funerals are about lives. Especially they are about the lives of those who mourn the deepest – family and friends and fellow believers. The Apostle Paul sets our agenda for us: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) I am very uncomfortable when I read about – or am invited to preside at – a “private family service.” Then who will offer comfort? The members of the congregation at a funeral service are not quiet observers. We have a role to play, the role of offering comfort. We may give comfort in a kind touch or a quiet and understanding word before or after the service. We comfort when we provide food for the family or see something that needs to be done and do it. Already the LPC family has provided great comfort in this week or mourning.
The primary way God comforts during the funeral itself – and in the quiet moments before sleep finally comes or in the sleeplessness of the night, however, is through his word. Funerals must contain generous amounts of Scripture, the vocabulary of the Holy Spirit, who Jesus calls the Comforter. Anthem and hymn may also be instruments of Biblical truth and great comfort. When a funeral congregation is willing to sing the songs and hymns of the faith with good voice and real joy, what comfort is given. Tomorrow’s service is filled with opportunities for such comfort.
Declaring: “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life,” we say as we commend our Christian brother or sister to the loving care of our gracious savior. Christian funerals are about eternal life. At a Christian funeral we are not tentative or uncertain. Our hope is sure and certain not by our strong faith or intellectual conviction. Our faith is sure and certain because it is a gift from God that does not, cannot, disappoint us (Romans 5:5).
The details and circumstance of a death color the mood and tone of the funeral service, no doubt about it. The funeral of a ninety-seven year old who dies suddenly after having just played 18 holes of golf is different than the funeral of a teenager who dies senselessly in an auto accident on the way home from an after-graduation party.
Among the words of comfort we will hear tomorrow are these from Romans 8:38-39: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Neither are the circumstances and details of our deaths able to separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Details and circumstances may alter mood, but not the message we declare.
Finally, our declaration is that death does not have the final word. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, death is defeated, its sting lost, swallowed up in victory. Christian funerals are a reminder that life and love have the final word, and that they are spoken in a familiar voice, the voice of Jesus.
Christian funerals are about life. They remind us of how we are to live our lives. Paul declares the whole purpose of his life is to “know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” Therefore, he says, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (See Philippians 3)
Christian funerals are about Easter.
Tomorrow at 2:00 we gather to celebrate a little Easter, Lynne's Easter. We will remember, and celebrate, a life lived during the dash. We will comfort those who grieve with the comfort we have received from God and we will use the vocabulary of kindness, the melody of hymns and the words of Scripture to do so. And we will declare, with no apologies, our confidence that the prize has been gained by a good wife and mother, daughter and friend who now knows fully even as she was fully known during every second of the dash (1 Corinthians 13:12).