Not even death

By the time next week begins, I will have officiated three funerals in the last couple of weeks. I don’t get out of thinking of death very often. Most of the congregations I’ve served have been older. Funerals have been a normal part of my ministry.

In this last season, as I’ve visited with the families, I’m grateful there’s been the usual sense of mourning and hope.

When I prepare for a funeral, I tell family and friends that we are making room to do two things. First, we want to celebrate the life of the one who has passed. We love that person; that person was a gift from God. So, there’s much to be thankful for. At the same time, that person is no longer here with us. That hurts. So, we must also make room to mourn, to acknowledge our sadness.

I do not want people to feel like they have to ignore their pain as a way to prove their faith in Jesus. That’s absurd. Yet, it’s a feeling many people have. If they cry or show sadness, especially in a worship setting, that somehow means they’re letting down God.

Not at all!

Once, I attended a funeral where a preacher read a poem. It was a maddening and enlightening experience for me. I’m sure by now you know I can be cynical. That’s been a long-standing virtue of mine. My cynicism grew as I wondered if that pastor set out to find the sappiest poem he could. I’ve long since asked for forgiveness. So, I don’t mind sharing this with you now.

This poem was awful. It was beyond cheesy. It tried to pull all the heartstrings and touch on all the not-so-helpful cliches. That preacher used that poem more than he did scripture. The Bible offers the treasure of God’s good news to share comfort, hope and inspiration for those who listen. But that preacher thought the poem could pull off something better.

And if that wasn’t enough, immediately after he finished reading the poem, he began to tell us the reasons we should not be sad, namely because our friend was in heaven.

Playing on emotions is not a good pastoral move.

Besides that, who says our sadness is something we need to disguise before God?

God meets us in the sadness and celebration we share as we experience death around us. Isn’t it amazing that when a loved one dies, one moment you can belly laugh at an old family story. The next breathe might bring a swell in your throat that begins another round of crying.

Those are our emotions. And that is where God draws near to us.

I do not want to imagine facing death without our faith in Christ. I can’t imagine what I would think and what I would feel if I did. Through Christ’s resurrection, I can celebrate that life with God never ends. And I can also trust the Lord knows the pain I experience.

As we wind down this Eastertide, may our hearts be full of resurrection hope. The resurrection of our Lord brings power and victory to our lives. Thanks be to God that nothing takes that away from us–not even death.

Stay blessed…john

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John Fletcher

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