Have you recently experienced the death of a friend, family member, or loved one? If so, you have you probably grappled with some of the worst emotional pain you have ever felt in your life. We do, as Christians, take comfort in the passages of Scripture which tell us of God’s promises, but the sting of death is very pointed and painful for those who remain. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 tells us “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” This verse is great, and it does give us much comfort, but yet our hearts wrestle with deep grief at the loss a loved one.
Why as faithful Christians do we still feel such emotional grief at a loved one’s death? The answer is that we were not meant to die. God did not create man in the garden with the intent that he would die. Mankind was created by God to be sinless. It was not until Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit that sin and death came to man. Since that moment, every man and woman have died or will die because of sin. It is for this very reason, even today that when we experience the loss of a loved one, that death does not sit well with us. Even though we are Christians and we have faith in Christ, we still feel the loss and experience grief with all the emotional rollercoaster twists and turns that follow it because it was not designed by God for us to experience. God through Scripture does give us comfort in the loss of our loved one who was in the faith, but it still hurts nonetheless.
There has been a modern trend in the church to have a so-called “celebration of life” rather than a funeral. It is a service or presentation during which one remembers and extolls all the good times and good things a person did during his or her life. More often than not the focus is on the person who has passed away rather than the Gospel. I find this particularly interesting that one would focus on the good of a mortal human, because Scripture is quite clear that good works can never pay the price of our inherited sin which condemns us all to death, but instead it is the Grace of God that saves us through Christ death and resurrection. Also it seems that the focus gets directed toward an idea of an ethereal heavenly eternity, rather than the new heavens and new earth.
Instead, the funeral service found in the Lutheran Service Book is intended to reflect the Christian confidence, trust, and hope in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting that Christ Jesus won for us on the cross. It is not solely about the person who has died but instead focuses on the Gospel promise of salvation through grace alone through Jesus Christ that the departed received in his or her baptism. We should, of course, commemorate our departed who was a baptized child of God, but the focus of a funeral service should always be Christ, and the Gospel His Word brings to us.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” It’s okay to mourn; it’s okay to miss your loved ones. God does not expect us to put on a strong face and not mourn the death of a loved one. Jesus wept at the news of the death of his friend, Lazarus. Jesus knows the hurt you feel and will provide you comfort in your grief. An additional comfort to we who remain on earth is that we can join with the faithfully departed in the faith in the Lord’s Supper. Perhaps you have heard it said a few times before communion, but listen to what is really being prayed and proclaimed in the Proper Preface (Easter):
…”By His dying He has destroyed death, and by His rising again He has restored to us everlasting life. Therefore with Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, and with all the witnesses of the resurrection, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying:”
That is awesome stuff! With angels, archangels, and ALL THE COMPANY OF HEAVEN. Yes, when we kneel at the altar rail and receive the true Body and true Blood of Jesus in the elements of communion we are gathered with all of heaven, which includes all those who have gone before us in the faith, including our loved ones. For that moment we are with Christ, and as Arthur Just Jr. says in his book Heaven on Earth, “What we must always remember when we go to the Lord’s Supper is that we commune with Christ, and wherever Christ is, there is heaven.” We join with all the Church and heaven in communion at the marriage feast of the Lamb, joined in a mysterious union with Christ and everyone who is in Christ. For me, it is really powerful and comforting to know that I join in Holy Communion with my parents each Sunday, even though they are both with the Lord in Paradise.
Finally, we must remember the final victory over death, sin, and Satan: Jesus Christ. We endure many hardships and pains in this life, and none quite hurts as bad as losing one we love, but Jesus’ death on the cross paid the final and full price for our sins. He has won victory over death, and He promises that those who believe in Him will be saved. Hold fast to God’s promises, for He always keeps them.
“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17)
Paul Norris worked for 10 years as a police officer in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex. He now works as the administrative assistant at Faith Lutheran Church in Plano, Texas.