Thursday, June 06, 2013

A Funeral Sermon

My grandfather, George William Schafer, died this past February, and his funeral followed soon after. My mother asked me to preach a sermon that witnessed to the faith of her father. So I did. It was the first time I had preached a family funeral. A large section of my family doesn’t attend Church, and some, like my brother, are avowed atheists. In my message I tried to capture the essence of the Christian faith in the face of death. The writings of Tom Long and Karl Barth are in the background of this homily. The text I preached on was 1 Corinthians 15:1-8,12-19, 51-58. The reactions were varied, the majority of serious feedback was positive. My mother and grandmother cried, my atheist brother said it made him feel uncomfortable, and my youngest brother told me that my sermon said what everybody already knew, but needed to hear again. I hope that my words were an honorable testimony to the life, death, and promised resurrection of my grandfather, George William Schafer.



My grandfather was a Christian until the day he died. Born into the Church, he made the choice to become a Christian and serve his Lord. He did not live a perfect nor spotless life, but to be a Christian one has to accept that we aren't perfect, that we will and do mess up, but that the Good News is that Jesus won't abandon us because of our screw-ups. My grandfather was a man saved, and he lived in a total state of thanksgiving of this reality. And now he has died. And now we grieve. But for him, as it is for all people who are in Christ, this isn't the end of the story.

In the passage read from 1 Corinthians moments ago, we hear the central declaration of the Christian faith. Jesus of Nazareth, carpenter and man of the soil, was murdered. But his murder, his violent killing wasn't the end of his story. God raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus appeared to many. And because God raised Jesus from the dead, he is what Paul calls the First Fruits of the resurrection. The fact that there is a First Fruit of the resurrection implies that, you know, there will be a second. And that is what Christians hold as the General resurrection, what the Apostles Creed calls The Resurrection of the Body.

And this is all well to do. I'm telling this story, and I'm being real, but there is someone in this room with a louder, and perhaps more persuasive story/voice. Death stares us in the face at all funerals, all memorial services, although sometimes he goes unacknowledged. But we know he's there. Death is what killed my grandfather. For the Christian, there is a distinction that sometimes gets lost. There is biological death, which is sometimes a sweet mercy, that frees folks suffering from their pain. But then there is Death, capitol D death, our enemy who is an ever pervasive reality who laughs in our face, steals our loved ones away from us, and who claims, loudly that he is the last word, that he has the last laugh. I've won, death silently screams, and look upon me and despair. This is what will happen to you. And there is nothing you can do about it.

In the midst of this silence, the church offers its testimony.

Christians accept death. They accept that yes, we will die, that this battle will be won by Death. But we know the Truth. We know that Death doesn't have the last laugh. Because of Jesus and his resurrection, we know that this battle may belong to death, but the war has already been won by God. My grandfather is dead. He is well and truly gone, but that doesn't mean he is lost, that he still doesn't have hope. The eternal life that Christianity promises, that Jesus' resurrection points to, isn't some after life insurance policy. It isn't, "I'll protect you from death, you will never truly die." God did not spare his own Son, Jesus Christ, from death. Jesus died. We die. The Hope of the Christian is the truth that even in Death, Jesus will never let us go. God is with us. This is the promise that the Resurrection makes real. Jesus will always hold onto us, grab us close, and envelop us in his love. My grandfather knew this. My grandfather now experiences this. The story isn't over. Love wins, even in the face of Death. And Death shall be destroyed.

So the trumpet will sound, and we shall be changed. The trumpet will sound, and we will be transformed. The trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised and we will be with God and God will be with us. God raised Jesus from the dead. We shall know life, and know life eternally because of this Jesus. The truth that the Christian faith pivots on is that in this Jesus, in his resurrection, Death has lost. We say with confidence in the face of our enemy that Death, you have lost. We will ask, Death where is your victory? Where is your sting? We declare to you, Death, you who are in this room that you do not have the last word. Jesus is the victory, and this victory is ours because of who Jesus is. God has given us the victory.

So we bury George William Schafer. We bury him with sadness in our hearts, but in the hope of Christ. Burial isn't the end of his story. Resurrection is. And my grandfather, who finds himself now in the arms of Jesus, shall be raised. It is in this truth, and in this hope, that we offer Thanksgiving to God. Thank you for this life, and thank you for never letting him go. Not even in Death.

So let us all now rise, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving of a life well lived in Christ, let us recite together the Apostles Creed.

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1 comment:

Jason Ingalls said...

Henry - thanks for the great sermon. I was moved by it and hope to be able to preach similarly when the time comes.