St. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21 “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I attended a funeral this past Friday of a pastor in our community. Bud had been in this area for almost 50 years. There was no one else I know that could be called the town’s pastor. He had a local church, but he knew, and had ministered to, most of the business owners and many others in the town. He didn’t have an easy life. He and his family always lived on a very tight budget, faced a number of family problems, and had been driven from one church by internal conflict. Yet for him to live was Christ. It was a joy to meet and talk with him. The name of Jesus was in his heart and on his lips. The packed church testified to the impact the Lord had on many through his life. And the funeral service was glorious! For him to die was truly gain. Paul’s words are not just for preachers. He was writing to a normal Christian congregation. What he said is a witness for us all. Life is not easy. Trials abound. Yet Jesus Christ is in the midst of life, and by His Spirit He is in the midst of us. To live is Christ, and death is not feared. It can only be gain.
We have a funeral service today for an elderly friend. She was one who lived her life well serving her family, her church, and her community. She brought joy to many. We’ve known of other death of younger ones far more tragic than this. But whether young or old we are all confronted by the fact of death, and we seek to look beyond it for some kind of hope. We may not fully acknowledge it, but I think we all know that we will be entering the presence of our Creator, our holy and perfect God. Yet we also acknowledge that we are not perfect. How do we stand in the presence of perfect holiness? Is our hope that God, like a doting grandfather, will simply overlook our faults. Or is our hope that we have done enough good in life to make up for our bad. In either case we have no certainty that we will be right with our Lord. We have a much more certain hope than that in the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has made atonement for all of our sins. At Calvary’s cross He took all of our sins, died the death we justly deserve, and graciously gave us His perfect righteousness. In Jesus Christ we can stand before our holy God in the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. By faith in Jesus Christ we have the true and solid hope in which we can rest no matter at what age death comes.
I have a funeral service to conduct this morning. It is always a sad time realizing the end of a particular era of life, and the separation from one we love. It is a hard time, and I never make light of the pain we face. But it is also a time to emphasize that life does not end at physical death. Death is the result of sin, the sin that entered when mankind first rebelled from God. It will come to all of us, and should cause us to think about what is next. Today’s funeral is for a 90 year old Christian gentleman. He has known the Lord and grown in a relationship with Him throughout his life. So this is an opportunity to proclaim the joy and hope we have in God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. We are coming up to Easter, the time we declare that death was overcome. Jesus came forth alive from the grave, and because He lives we also can live. Even in the midst of tear we can proclaim our hope of life in the presence of our Saviour. It is a truth and a hope we want all to have.
There is a funeral service this morning for a woman in the community. It will be an absolutely beautiful time. Beauty is usually not the way we describe a funeral, and there will certainly will be tears because of the separation. But this woman, in her mid 80s, was a life long Christian, lived her whole life in the same community, and was a member of the same congregation for all her years. The family and friends will gather around her casket at the church, there will be a service of worship, songs of praise to our gracious Lord, and a message of hope and assurance of life. The family and congregation will then follow in procession behind the casket to the cemetery across the street where she will be laid to rest among all of her relatives and friends who have gone before her. In our fast moving and mobile society, most of our funerals are not this way, but the hope, the assurance of life, and the worship of our gracious God for the life of a Christian are invariable. There are always tears, and rightly so, but those tears come with the deepest sense of joy and gratitude for God’s assurance of life eternal.