The day after my Grandad died, my parents asked me to lead the graveside and funeral services. I said yes, but they asked, “Are you sure?” They knew it would be difficult as I was very close to my Grandad. I told them I would, and I had three reasons in my mind for wanting to do it even though I knew it would be one of the hardest things I have ever done.
1) What’s the point of having a pastor in the family if he “can’t do it” when he is most needed?
2) What better tribute could I give my Grandad than doing something difficult in his honor? After all, it was from him that we all had learned how to do hard things.
3) What would better ensure that these would be gospel-filled services than for the gospel minister to lead them?
This is the sermon I preached at the memorial service. I wanted it to be simple, accessible, honest, and honoring to Grandad but Christ-centered.
Today is one of those days we hoped would never come. I know I’ve been dreading it for years and years. But we knew it was coming; death is even more inevitable than taxes. Yet somehow it always felt like it might never come, didn’t it? How can something be such a surprise and not a surprise, all at once? And yet that’s how I feel today.
Grandad was huge, larger than life; there will never be another like him. He was not even close to a perfect man — no one in this room or anywhere is going to nominate him for sainthood. But he loved us, and we never doubted that.
I think this is one of those times in life to pause and think about our own life and death. Someone once told me: “never waste a wedding” — use each wedding as an opportunity to think about your own love and vows. I think there should be a similar saying about funerals (if there isn’t one already): use each funeral as an opportunity to think about our own lives and deaths.
Grandad’s passing has made me think about that, and I’ve kept coming back to one very strange thing Jesus said in John 11.25: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…”
Those are really bold words! How would you react if someone stopped you tomorrow and said that to you? In John 11, Jesus’s close friend Lazarus had died & was buried. Those words were what Jesus said after hearing about Lazarus’s death. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…”
This of course raises one very obvious question: Can he actually do it? I mean, that’s a pretty bold claim. Anyone can say it, but could he actually back it up? Then Jesus raised Lazarus to prove he can do it. And then Jesus was himself raised to prove once for all that he is more powerful even than death.
Maybe you think: Yeah, that’s the kind of story that happens in the Bible, but it doesn’t happen in real life. I’ve never seen it.
But that’s just it: I believe God gives us all glimpses of his resurrection power in our own lives too. Have you ever experienced a time when you were torn down, it felt like completely to the ground? But then when you look back on it, you realize it was good for you. You realize, you weren’t being torn down, you were being built up! Maybe you even reach the point where you say something like this: “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
In the Bible, those kinds of circumstances are always times when God is demonstrating his resurrection power. For example, Joseph: after all he went through, he said, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen 50.20).” The greatest example of this was the cross: how could this terrible event of a human being leveled to the ground also be the moment in which God saves the world?
But that’s always how God works. He takes the worst things, what this broken world means for evil, and uses them for our good. Jesus is a redeemer of people, places, and circumstances. And his promise is that if we follow him in faith today, then he will be with us through death to resurrection also.
That was Grandad’s hope; that’s what he said the night he died. And it’s ours too. Let me finish by reading from Psalm 30. Listen to how it describes the shape of life:
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may last for the night,
but joy comes in the morning…
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to your forever!