Summary: Death is the final healing and homecoming, but it’s still tough for us who remain and grieve.
Funeral meditation: "The grave isn’t the final word"
Someone in our family is in the hospital, dieing, and we whisper at the bedside, “I’d do anything to make you well.” I heard a relative say, “If I could take your sickness and have you well, I would.” That is exactly what God the Father did. He sent His Son to remedy the worst sickness of all. We sometimes get angry at God when someone we love dies and ask, “Where was God when my loved one died?” -as though death were optional, as though God was obligated to keep us all alive. So where WAS God? He was where He was when His Son died. He’s been there, and He cares. He cares enough to do something about it.
When I visit the sick, I pray for healing; I also pray for God’s will. I ask God to provide “the best possible outcome.” And sometimes the patient dies, which is the final healing and homecoming.
During my Army days it was common for soldiers to go on ahead of their families when they received orders for a new assignment. After they signed for quarters and settled in, the rest of the family would rejoin them. One officer told his wife on his deathbed, “When I get housing I’ll send for you.”
Death is about separation, the pain we feel from our loss. Sin also causes separation; it alienates us from God, but Jesus was sent to earth to get us back. He took our sins and our punishment. Jesus did more than die for us—-He walked this earth, and therefore He understands our hurts better—-He has experiential knowledge of suffering and loss. Jesus became a wounded healer; He hears our prayers in a personal way. When death comes, He knows about the pain-—He’s been there. God weeps with us, so that we may someday laugh and rejoice with Him. Because of Jesus, death is not the end of life. “Because I live, you shall live also”, Jesus said. “I am the resurrection and the life; they who believe in Me shall never die.” God took the worst deed of history-—the Cross-—and turned it into the greatest victory.
In some religious traditions, Good Friday is observed as if the "rest of the story" wasn’t known, in order to grasp the grief felt by Jesus’ disciples. But from our perspective, that’s hard to do. An elderly minister from Philadelphia decided he just couldn’t do that, so the title of his Good Friday sermon was “It’s Friday...but Sunday’s Coming.” On the day Jesus died, it looked like the forces of evil had won over the forces of good. Even Jesus’ followers felt despair as all their hopes died that day-—so they thought. The disciples who lived through both days—Good Friday and Easter Sunday—never doubted God again.
Our problem is that we’re living on Saturday, wondering if Sunday will ever come. We’re living in the middle. We know when God created the world, He declared it was good. We know that when Jesus returns, all the wrongs of the world will be made right, and all our tears will be wiped away. But in the meantime, we’re living in the middle, trying to trust God as we turn the next page, living with uncertainty because we’re trusting in the Author and Finisher of our faith.
There is an Episcopal cemetery in rural Louisiana. In the shade of a 150-year old live oak tree is the grave of a woman of deep faith. On her tombstone is only one word: “Waiting.” We who believe in Jesus know that Sunday’s coming.
I’d like to close with a poem I recently heard…
God looked around his Garden and found an empty place.
He then looked down upon His earth and saw your loving face.
He put his arms around you and lifted you to rest.
His Garden must be beautiful, He always takes the best.
He knew that you were suffering, He knew you were in pain.
And knew that you would never get well on earth again.
He saw your path was difficult, He closed you tired eyes,
He whispered to you, "Peace be Thine," and gave you wings to fly.
When we saw you sleeping so calm and free of pain,
We would not wish you back to earth to suffer once again.
You’ve left us precious memories, your love will be our guide,
You live on through your children, you’re always by our side.
It broke our hearts to lose you, but you did not go alone.
For part of us went with you on the day God called you home
May God’s promises be the measure of our hope and expectations.
Closing prayer: God Almighty, we close this brief service with hope in Your promise and faith in Your ability to transform us. We are not overwhelmed by loss or drowning in hopelessness. Nonetheless, we seek Your strength in the coming days as we struggle to deal with what has happened, and we know You will walk with us. We trust You even though we don’t understand fully Your timing or purpose. We know You love us and we thank You for the gift of life and the promise of life eternal through Your Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus, in Whose Name we pray, Amen.