In the past week, between my church family and my work family, we lost four pillars of our community. The week will be a series of funerals and memories of people gone from our lives. It has been a devastating time for our church family in particular as we watch two incredible ladies, now widows, support one-another and comfort us as we try to find the words to say to them. My daughter said that she is beginning to see the people who have been around her most of her life, now depart this place.
Death is hard on all of us.
The personal loss comes on the heels of the senseless murder of nine Christians in Charleston. It seems the whole world is struggling to make sense out of the senseless. And it is senseless. It would seem from reading our Bible that God never planned for us to live this way and yet, here we are. Losing lives to the violence of relentless disease and illness—yes even mental illness—is difficult to grasp. And yet we have seen an outpouring of forgiveness, hope, and a belief in salvation on the streets of Charleston. What a model of what Christ means to those of us who believe in forgiveness and eternal life through him.
These can be overwhelmingly sad times for us left behind. Watching these women walk through their grief, I see the sadness in my sister’s eyes remembering the loss of her husband. When we say goodbye to another Godly man on Saturday, I will watch my daughter struggle with the reminder that her father died 11 years ago that day. As the world watches Charleston, we are reminded of other mass killings of not just the faithful, but the innocent young lives such as those we lost in Sandy Hook. It seems that death always surrounds us. And yet Jesus promised that with the Holy Spirit our sorrow would turn to joy and that because of Jesus we would be victorious over death.
“O death, where is you victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57, NLT)
And strange as it may seem, I have begun to find joy in attending funerals celebrating these lives. It is hard to explain, and I will try my best to share my sense of peace. Yesterday we celebrated the life of a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a steady hand in our congregation. Yesterday our church was filled with old-time members who had left for other congregations/denominations, but never left the family. There were gasps and hugs and smiles as the Body of Christ came together to share the life our brother Ken lived. God was pruning again and as he snipped a piece of the vine he brought forth the steadfast trunk that we would all know—he is still moving among the family. The family—HIS FAMILY—is still strong. We just don’t meet up every Sunday like we used to. Through his grace, we are still one family.
I love listening to the family and friends speak at funerals. We never hear the bad stuff at a funeral because just as Jesus cleanses our hearts, we cleanse our memories in honor of the departed. Last winter I went to the funeral of a friend’s father. They spoke about his military career and they spoke about his love for the Lord that trickled down throughout the family. His faith inspired sons to enter into ministry and others to simply devote their lives to following Jesus. Where there could have been great dread and despair in their loss, there was great hope. I left feeling better than when I came and inspired to go deeper in my faith.
I have talked with others after the funerals or memorials for devoted followers of Jesus and almost always I hear someone say: “I hope they say things like that about me when I die.” We want to be remembered for our good deeds. We want to know that we inspired others to follow Jesus. We hope that the room will be packed with friends from all over who come because they saw Jesus in us and because we lived the love he commanded us to live. We hope that our lives will be ones well celebrated. These God-inspired lives can motivate us forward if we ask God what he desires from us and if we are willing to make changes to live for him.
If you are struggling through the loss of someone dear to you, regardless of when that loss occurred, I urge you to seek Jesus and ask that he send the Holy Spirit that your sorrow become joy, knowing that you will one day be reunited with your loved one. I urge you to look into your own heart and life and ask his forgiveness that you might forgive others, including the one who has left you. Ask God to show you his love, to wrap you in his warmth, and to comfort you in your sadness. Ask that you may have the eternal life he has promised to those who believe in Jesus and chose to follow him. Ask that he would use your life and transform it into one of service and a celebration of life today. You don’t need to wait for others to celebrate the life God has given you—you can start celebrating and living it today.
Heavenly Father, I pray that my words are pleasing to you and that those who read them may find your peace and love today. I pray that we would all be one in you and you in us and that we would fix our eyes and hearts on you.
This is written in honor of Ken, Elsie, Scott, and John—Well done good and faithful servants.