Death does not come often to the Imagine Church family; we're a younger church, age-wise, than most. We can recall with the clarity of memory the funerals we have had: Bill Morgan, Ruth and Joe Ogrinc, JP Russell, Tom Bower, Randy Edwards, William Lockey, Bob Wujciak. Zach Preston's passing into the life immortal last week hit us all hard because he was so young, having just turned fifty in December.
When I conduct the funeral for someone who was so close to me, people will often ask, "How do you do it?" Certainly it is an emotional time, but it is also a humble privilege to perform the final service for someone who has lived near to God during the years of this mortal life -- the kind of people we call saints. Those who have fought the good fight and kept the faith and finished the course. There is no greater gift I can give someone who has served Christ so faithfully than to commend one to God with the triumphant alleluias of the church on earth.
The apostle Paul told his flock not to grieve "as those who are without hope." Our grief is real, but so is the comfort in Christ. Jesus' grief was real when a friend died, just as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. The shortest verse in the Bible tells us that when he was told that Lazarus was dead, "Jesus wept." But the miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead is a symbol of the power of Jesus over death and all its sorrow.
There is no easy answer to the great tragedies we human beings often experience in this earthly life. But at a funeral, the conviction must shine through that the God who knows in his Son the agony of the cross is able to lift us to a place where sorrow is transcended and life renewed. My belief in the eternal dimension gives assurance that within God's love nothing is ever lost, nothing is ever wasted. I believe there will be fulfillment in another sphere for all whose time here seems to have been tragically cut short. That leads me to one final thought.
As we get older, the thought is bound to cross our minds that "someday I'll be the one for whom a service like this will be conducted." You may have thought this, too, on the occasion of a funeral. We should not be obsessed with it, but there's nothing morbid about an occasional reminder of our own mortality. It's the strongest test of all we really believe.
I pray that in the end our own hope will be in the mercy of God and the promises of the gospel. I like to remember the first question and answer of an historical document of the faith called the Heidelberg Catechism. "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" "That I belong -- body and soul, in life and in death -- not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ."
In the name of the One who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
Bruce Jones, Pastor and Co-Creator,
Imagine Church of the Carolinas