Summary: Funeral sermon for a Christian mother and grandmother
I Peter 1:3a-4, 6 “By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfailing, kept in heaven for you….In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials.” (RSV)
One of the beauties of the Christian faith is the way it speaks of both rejoicing and sorrow—speaks of them together without taking away from the reality of either one. Scripture tells us to rejoice—in fact, to “rejoice always” (I Thessalonians 5:16). To some this might sound artificial, just an outward show, blind to the realities of tragedy and grief. But this is not the case at all. Weeping and sorrow, too, are portrayed in Scripture as very real. Grief is genuine. Even our Lord wept at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. Christian rejoicing does not exclude true, heartfelt grief. As real as our grief sometimes is, however, that grief never replaces the joy deep in the Christian heart; there is a joy present even in the midst of sorrow. To that joy I would like to direct your thoughts this afternoon, even while you are grieving.
The joy of which Scripture speaks is based on hope. Peter calls it a “living hope,” a hope that is ours “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We lay hold on that hope as we think of our departed loved one now at peace in heaven; we lay hold on that hope as we each anticipate our own transition from this earthly life; we lay hold on that hope as we look forward to the coming of Christ in glory as He has promised.
Today we are mourning the loss of our dear one. We know we will miss her. Our sadness is real. And yet we know that for her, death has brought freedom from pain, suffering, and tears; what was once her hope, is for her now a reality, for she has received "an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfailing." Because this hope is for her now a reality, we rejoice for her sake, even while we mourn our loss.
What is more, we may claim that same hope for ourselves. The death of a dear one has a way of reminding each of us that we, too, are mortal, and that our time on this earth will some day reach its conclusion. The joy of the Christian is that each of us is promised that same hope, that “living hope,” that “inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfailing.” Sorrow and grief are not the last word. We can sing,
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”
(from A Selection of Hymns, 1787, ed. J. Rippon.
Based on Isaiah 43:1-5)
This living hope, the hope that gives us a deep joy even in the face of sadness and grief, is kept alive in our hearts by the anticipation of our Lord’s return. This hope is not mere wishful thinking or self delusion. It is a hope based on the promise that Christ will come again in glory. “According to his promise,” writes St. Peter, “we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (II Peter 3:13) “Behold,” Scripture proclaims, “the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
What basis do we have for this hope, this joy in the midst of sorrow? How is it that we dare to lay claim to a “living hope”? Our claim is based on the firm foundation of our Savior’s resurrection from the dead. What a literally earth-shaking event was Jesus’ resurrection! Can you imagine the sorrow and disappointment that his disciples must have felt when they saw the lifeless body of the one for whom they had forsaken everything? Can you imagine how their hopes were dashed after all the sacrifices they had made in order to become his followers? Then imagine how their sorrow is transformed to joy when they realize that he has risen from the grave! This changes everything!
The joy that they experience is not simply the joy of having him with them again. Jesus returned to them not to resume the same life together that they had had before he died; they saw him only now and then, and only for a short while. But now they could see his suffering in a whole new light. For the disciples, Jesus’ resurrection transformed his sufferings into a thing of great joy. What before they saw only as darkness, they now came to see as light. What before looked like defeat, was now revealed as victory! What before was only death, was now life! Now they could see that in the death of Jesus, God was reconciling the world to himself. In the death of Jesus, God was declaring his love for his people, and in his resurrection God was offering an unfailing hope.