(The following is a funeral homily I prepared for the deceased mother of a beloved saint. I share it this week knowing that because of death many approach this year's Thanksgiving with more empty chairs at their tables than the year past. For those who do not feel this sting so acutely, may these words be something of a preparation. For the others, may these words be a comfort and a light)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Our duty on this solemn day is to give thanks and to take heed.
First, we give thanks. The apostle Paul said that everything should be received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4). It is through giving thanks that we bring a thing to its highest place. It is through thanksgiving that we consecrate life to God, especially the lives of our parents.
Christie, giving thanks today for your mother is the way you receive the entirety of her life as from God and bring her life to its most noble end: a life to thank God for.
So thanks be to God then for the fruitful womb that gave you and your brothers birth. God opened your mother’s womb and brought forth your life, Christie, a grace that is obviously necessary for your own entrance into His eternal kingdom. Give thanks to God for your mother’s fruitful womb.
Thanks be to God for your mother’s care in your childhood. She nursed you. She changed you. She dressed you and schooled you and nurtured you the best she knew how. She kept your little life going when a single day without a mother - one day of her neglect - would have most surely been the end of you. Give thanks to God, Christie, that your mother raised you and kept your life.
And give thanks even for this: your mother’s long mental illness. Yes, give thanks to God that her appointment with death lingered as it did, for in this God multiplied to you many days for you to honor her. Her illness called forth from you a patience and a compassion that thickened your character and glorified God. In those days you surely gained a greater appreciation for God's own long-sufferings for you and your needs.
Thank God, who gave your mother many days with you and gave you the grace to fill those days with His good and holy will. Yes, thanks be to God for His way, the way He chose for your mother to live and die. He has not failed to work all of it together for good.
So we have given thanks.
It is a rare grace to stand over the casket of a mother or father and give thanks. But it is the Christian who knows that life comes from God and nothing works outside of God's steady hand of goodness and mercy. So give thanks and remember your mother before God the best way you can, in thanksgiving.
But we must also give heed today. We must give heed today to the last way in which Margery’s life speaks to us: death by sin.
God would have us give heed to the reason why we are here today. Why are we here? We are here because of a death, but a death caused by sin. No, do not misunderstand, Margery was not special in this department. She was not a more accomplished sinner than the rest of us. But it is Margery’s death that alerts us again to the truth we work hard to avoid: there is one death for every one life.
And why is that?
The Bible, God’s holy word to man, tells us that all men die not simply because they grow old, but because of sin. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.”
One man let sin into the world and that sin spread to all men. And what did the seed of sin produce? Death. Death spread to all men like poison in a shared well. This is why men die. They die because of sin. “The wages of sin is death” the scriptures say. It is a shocking reminder to us that God is still in control. God still judges man and no man can escape the judgment.
This is a heavy truth. But only a fool would turn away from the obvious reality that all men die. But that is exactly what we do, is it not? We turn away. We refuse to take heed on days like this that we, in our rebellion against God, in our turning to our own way, in our not wanting God, we have unleashed upon the world and ourselves the greatest destruction imaginable: death. We run from this truth but death always catches up to us.
Is there any hope for us? Is there any possibility of life? Yes. There is life eternal - unending life with God - for anyone who will trust that the death of Jesus Christ is the very death they owed to God's just judgments.
The scriptures put it this way: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This verse is talking about Jesus. The Son of God had no sin yet he was made to be sin for us. That means He received for us what we should receive – the death owed to sin. The death of the innocent Christ is therefore a substitutionary death. He dies in our place that we might live before God.
So let us take heed of the reality of death and not talk about it like children. Let us be men and women in our thinking. Do not our hearts long for life every day? Is not eternity set in our hearts? Yet we can not get there unless Jesus brings us. The scriptures say: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
Fallen asleep in Him. Those words describe death without the sting. Those words describe death without the death. For those whose only hope before God's coming judgment is Jesus' death, the most true thing that can be said about them is they have fallen asleep in Him, soon to be woken unto everlasting life just like that first Easter morning.
Do you believe in death? Of course you do. Then believe in life too, for that is why God justly judged man so that we would wake from our sinful slumber and turn and trust His beloved Son and live.
So we have given thanks today. May by God’s grace we all give heed as well.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor John Hartley