By Graham Glover –
Last week I went to Indiana to preside at the funeral of my great-uncle. He was a giant of a man. A self-made Cuban immigrant, who served his native country during WWII at the age of 14. Yes, 14. He was a successful engineer that worked and retired at Ford Motor Company. He loved his bride more than I have seen most men even consider loving theirs. His family meant the world to him and he was never without sound counsel for every single one of us that were related to him – whether we asked for it or not.
I will miss my uncle a great deal. I am thankful for the nuggets of wisdom he shared with me during the years and for the assistance he gave those closest to me. I know that my thoughts are not unique, as his funeral weekend was filled with countless stories about our family patriarch that reminded us all of the profound influence he had on our lives.
As a stood before my extended family last week, everyone present was reminded of the reality that brought us to the funeral home: death. Our uncle – our brother – our husband – our father – our grandfather – our friend, was dead. Nothing could change this. He was living no more. None of the elegant and heart-felt eulogies could bring him back to life. His greatness – his accomplishments, resulted in the same fate that awaits us all, death.
For some, this reality can be overwhelming. They try to process it by saying, “He’s in a better place”, never really clarifying where that place is or how one gets there. Others try to rationalize their hurt with comments like, “He’s legacy lives on in our hearts”, seeking ways to make the dead still live. Some will do the, “He’s looking down on us and smiling”, as though our loved ones become godlike in their death, residing in the clouds above the earth. And still others will simply ignore what has happened, wishing that somehow, someway, the loss isn’t real.
Confronting death like this isn’t easy. It’s cliché and shallow. It might bring some solace for a brief moment as we try to use these common phrases and ideas to make the dark reality of death feel better. Offering these things may make us feel good about ourselves as we think they are what others want to hear.
But they are nothing but lies. They are that which Satan would have us think as we confront death. For thoughts like this are devoid of Christ. Ideas like these make us understand death without understanding who our Savior is and what He does for us.
When our loved ones die we rejoice for one reason alone – Christ Jesus our Lord. We find comfort in one thing alone – that as Christ has been raised from the dead so too shall we. We get through our loss not because of the greatness of the dead, but because of the greatness of our Lord.
Death has no sting because of Jesus. Death has no victory because of Jesus. We were buried with Christ and one day shall rise with Him. This is what our sinful ears need to hear in death. These are the words of hope that our hearts need when confronted with death.
This reality is on full display during the funeral service, as the church wonderfully recalls our baptism several times throughout the Liturgy. It reminds us that this act, done for many of us a short time after we were born, is that which brings us into the company of saints. In the midst of death, we are pointed to life. Life in Christ. Life in the One whose return we await. Life in a new heaven and a new earth. Life in Jesus.
I miss my uncle. I miss all my family, friends, and comrades whose life on this earth is no more. Many of them were great examples to me. Some of them accomplished a great deal. But my comfort – your comfort is not in what these dead people did or said, but only and exclusively in what our Savior did in the waters of Holy Baptism, where our names were written into the book of life and where faith was given. This is our promise.