Summary: Paul compares our bodies to tents, a familiar image for soldiers who yearn for homecoming.
Funeral message for a Military Veteran
Poem: “The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat the soldier’s last tattoo; No more on life’s parade shall meet that brave and fallen few. On Fame’s eternal camping ground, their silent tents are spread; But glory guards with solemn dignity the bivouac of the dead.” (Theodore O’Hara, 1847)
Can anything be more ironic than the lives of our nation’s military? They love America, so they spend long years in foreign lands far from her shores. They revere freedom, yet they sacrifice their own so that others may be free. They defend their own right to live as individuals, yet yield their individuality in that cause. Perhaps, most paradoxically of all, they value life, yet so bravely they ready themselves to die in the service of their country.
Tom Brokow was not exaggerating when he called those who served during WWII The Greatest Generation. Like so many, ________ quietly served his country, looked out for his battle buddies, and managed to survive the untold horrors of the war. He returned a bona-fide hero.
In the Bible, God is often referred to as the “Lord of Hosts”. This word “hosts” means “armies”. God is our heavenly Commander. Jesus had an encounter with a soldier, a Roman Centurion, who asked Him to heal a servant, and Jesus said He’d not seen such faith in all Israel. I’d like to think that soldiers are especially capable of trusting their chain-of-command. I’ve seen foxhole faith that fades with time, but I’ve also seen a lasting trust in God that prevails throughout the years, in times of great strife and in times of peace.
Those who spend time in military service have an uncomfortable life—at times we begin to think that being miserable is part of the mission. Field duty is usually an ordeal: Eating C-Rations/MREs, cleaning weapons, guard duty, braving the harsh elements, long hours, and living in a tent. The Apostle Paul never served in the military, but as a tentmaker he knew what it was like to live a nomadic life under harsh conditions. In II Corinthians 5 he writes:
“We know that when this tent we live in is taken down and folded up, when we die and leave these finite bodies, we will have wonderful new resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not fashioned by human hands—and we will never have to relocate our ‘tents’ again. Our new homes will be ours forevermore.” (paraphrase)
For troops on deployment, a tent is frequently “home sweet home”. It’s all part of military duty, but no one lives permanently in a tent. It may SEEM like it at times, but the truth of the matter is, that at the end of every field exercise soldiers return to their barracks or quarters, not a GP-Medium.
That is exactly the word-picture Paul is presenting. Paul is saying that our bodies are a lot like tents. They provide a place to live, but only for a brief portion of our existence. Like the canvas of a tent, our flesh is just a temporary structure. Paul’s idea of death is breaking down a tent and folding it up, in preparation for moving into a permanent facility. At the end of life, we can add these words to our obituary: “TO BE CONTINUED”. There’s more to come.
Our Lord Jesus assured His disciples that this eternal structure was in the process of being built. In John’s Gospel, chapter 14, He offers these comforting words: “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you.” There’s plenty of room; in the meantime, Jesus is preparing us and getting our room ready.
When soldiers are on maneuvers, what do they talk about? They talk about how they can’t wait to get back home; how glad they’ll be to get back to the “real world”. The misery and hardships troops endure make homecoming all the more sweet. Our problem is that we often think the tent we’re living in is the real world—it’s not. What we are experiencing is but a shadow of reality. We hope to move from the shadowlands of life some day to encounter Reality is all its fullness.
God offers the confident assurance that when our earthly existence is over, we will leave our tents and dwell forever in our permanent home. This life is the only life we’ve known, but there’s another life coming. Death is merely a transition in life, like getting orders for a new assignment. We who remain are left with sorrow, but we find comfort in the certainty of reunion and rest. We who are remain, grieve--but with hope. To be absent from the body--this temporary tent--is to be at home with the Lord.