Yesterday I officiated at a funeral for a good friend. It happens more often as we age. Diagnosis confirmed, my friend put his life in God’s hands. He prayed, sought medical treatment, got his spiritual house in order, resolved what could be, and gratefully committed what couldn’t, to God’s great mercy. He then planned a new 50-year business venture at the same time as asking me to do his funeral. Whichever way it went, he decided, he would be prepared. So typical of my friend.
Nobody welcomes funerals. If you find yourself attending one as a mourner and you know the gospel, you’re free to mourn with hope, unlike so many who are not (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Tradition claims, "When the student is ready, the teacher will come." Funerals tend to offer the rare moment when people pause from the hum-drum and pay attention to the bigger issues of life.
The thoughts, recollections and reflections that a funeral evokes may well be, for Christians, the whole human story.
Creation. Perfection. Paradise. Innocence. Hope. Deception. Abdication. Defiance. Corruption. Fall. Rebellion. Expulsion. Separation. Hope. Redemption. Rescue. Hope. Salvation. Sacrifice. Inclusion. Forgiveness. Mediation. Hope. Restoration. Sanctification. Intercession. Anticipation. Hope. Visualization. Farewell. Hope.
So much evoked in so little time. Time very well spent, if that’s how you spend it.
Earlier in life I struggled to appreciate how something as final, empty and horrible as death could be the place where God’s response seemed most enigmatic. It seemed so incongruous that he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), yet the death of a Christian is deemed "precious" (Psalm 116:15). Didn’t Jesus come to give us life? (John 10:10).
In retrospect, I see this dilemma as a simple case of frustration that God didn’t appear to be wringing his hands like the rest of us. The longer we live and the more we understand God, the more right and righteous and wonderful and powerful and merciful we realize him to be.
The sting of death is sin. But Jesus took the sting himself on a hill outside Jerusalem. When you know God holds the one you mourn safely in his loving arms, you mourn not with despair, but with hope!
Yesterday we celebrated my friend’s life and bade him farewell with eulogies, recollections and fond nostalgia. It’s an honor to participate in such a sendoff when you sense the peace of God and the overwhelming reassurance that the Master has it all under control. It’s all going to be OK in the end.
That’s what’s precious to God.
It’s precious to me too! It’s a hope top-up when God brings another of his children safely along the journey of eternity in him.