Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - Weep with them that weep
The words on my voice mail were very clear, "Chuck, my husband passed away this morning. Can you please preach the funeral?"
I never really know what to say to someone who loses a spouse. I have lost loved ones in my life, but I do not know how it feels to to know the one you have loved your whole adult life will never sit across the table from you again. The partner that has always shared the joys, the struggles, and the ups and downs of life will no longer be there. You no longer will have the one who you laugh with, cry with and plan your twilight years with. They have gone to their reward. I just don't have adequate words to help.
I have known this couple for almost 10 years. They were members at the church I used to preach at. I remember going to see David in the hospital numerous times through the years. His pain was obvious but I was always met at the door with kindness and a smile. In his final years, he was confined to a wheel chair and sitting up in normal chairs was extremely painful. "At least he's not in pain...he is comforted...his suffering is over." None of those words would relieve her pain or suffering and though they might bring her some comfort, once the crowd is gone, the fast paced activities surrounding the funeral and burial will quickly turn to loneliness. Worst yet, I have to tell her that my travels will not allow me to be home in time to properly prepare a funeral service that will help the family to begin the healing process. The answer was one that I expected from his wife, "Don't worry about it, I understand."
As I flew home Thursday night, I began to think about the things the bible offered this family who are suffering, those who are lonely, and those who are facing one of the biggest changes they will experience in life.
First, our comfort starts with our belief in God. At a time like this, the human design causes our emotions of sadness and grief to dominate our reactions to the news of someone's death. The emotions are much stronger when it involves the death of someone who made such an impact on our life. Sadness and grief are good. They are required for us to process what has occurred and it will allow us to move on. But Christians understand that the end of human life is not "the end", but the beginning of our time in our beautiful, heavenly home which has been promised by God. If there was no God, then there would be no hereafter. There is a God and he cares for his people. 1 Peter 5:7 states, "casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you."
We should trust God for comfort. Solomon gives the remedy for finding comfort in an hour of grief and sadness (Prov. 3:5-6). With God there is peace (Isa. 26:3). He is the "Father of mercies...God of all comfort." It is comfort to know that death is not the end (Job 14:14). The grave is not the end (Psalms 49:15; John 11:25; John 5:28-29). The Christian who has passed away no longer is faced with the cruelty of life. We weep today at our loss, but David is comforted – no pain, no tears, no sorrow; he is at rest, at peace, with joy abounding. We grieve at our loss. Grief is a natural reaction to death. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16 - 5:1 that we should not lose heart when faced with death. In death there is comfort; comfort in the fond memories of this dear loved one and how he has touched all our lives, and comfort from the Lord.
Second, we do have the promise of heaven. John 14 tells us, "Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, `there' ye may be also." As Christians, when we push through the sadness and grief, we know the joy that is found when someone goes home to be with the father. Psalms 16 states, "Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust. O my soul, you have said to the LORD, "You are my Lord, My goodness is nothing apart from You." As for the saints who are on the earth, "They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight." Their sorrows shall be multiplied who hasten after another god; Their drink offerings of blood I will not offer, Nor take up their names on my lips. O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance. I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel; My heart also instructs me in the night seasons. I have set the LORD always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Finally, never go through this period of time alone. "Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart, And lean not upon thine own understanding." We should not try to trust our own mind to process the events surrounding death. We need God's guiding light to help us through our darkest hours (Psalms 119:105). We need to meditate on His Word for it brings us guidance; guidance which shows us how to prepare for death. Life on this earth is a time to prepare for death. The pilgrimage which is our life will end. The Bible gives the answer as to how man is to prepare for death: Peter on Pentecost (Acts 2:36-38); the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:30); Saul (Acts 22:16). In all of these examples we see that man prepares themself for death by coming to God through His Son Jesus Christ (John 14:6). We are buried with Him through baptism which provides us forgiveness of sin (Rom. 6:1-11).
My mentor was asked a question on his deathbed by the hospice worker assigned to his case. She asked him, as she notified him that his hours for life were short, "Are you ready?" His response was simple, but speaks volumes to why Christians don't fear death but rejoice in it. He simply said, "This is what a Christian lives for."
Thanks be to God for the love and care he bestows on us!