My church community has experienced a string of deaths lately, so I’ve gotten in quite a bit of preaching at funerals. As a pastor, I guide the gathered community through the worship service. As a preacher, I want to emphasize our hope in Jesus Christ simply and succinctly. In the United Methodist Church’s liturgy for the Service of Death and Resurrection, we allow room for others to share memories of the dead, and you’ll see that in the sermons. I preach, then step back and allow others to share. This kind of mutual participation in the worship of God makes for a beautiful celebration of lives lived in the embrace of God’s love and grace.
Below are the two most recent sermons I’ve given at funerals. The first was 26 December 2015 for a 110 year old pillar of our church family. The second was from today for an 80 year old musician and former choir director of First United Methodist Church.
23 That same day Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Jesus. 24 They asked, “Teacher, Moses said, If a man who doesn’t have children dies, his brother must marry his wife and produce children for his brother. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married, then died. Because he had no children he left his widow to his brother. 26 The same thing happened with the second brother and the third, and in fact with all seven brothers. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 At the resurrection, which of the seven brothers will be her husband? They were all married to her.”
29 Jesus responded, “You are wrong because you don’t know either the scriptures or God’s power. 30 At the resurrection people won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like angels from God. 31 As for the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read what God told you, 32 I’m the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living.” 33 Now when the crowd heard this, they were astonished at his teaching. (CEB)
God of the Living
I’m going to keep my words short because, in a moment, I want to give you an opportunity to share about Florence. What I want to do is speak to the Good News of Jesus Christ. One of the reasons we hold funerals in the Christian Faith is to witness to our hope and belief in the resurrection of the dead.
It’s a belief to which we confess in the creeds of the Church. In the Apostles’ Creed we say, “I believe…in the resurrection of the body.” In the Nicene Creed we say, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
Jesus’ own teaching on the resurrection of the dead is highlighted in his answer to the Sadducees when they to trick him. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection because they only accepted the first five books of the Bible as Scripture, and they didn’t see anything about resurrection in there.
I love Jesus’ response. He quotes from Exodus as proof of the resurrection when he says, “You are wrong because you don’t know either the scriptures or God’s power… As for the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read what God told you. ‘I’m the God of Jacob’ He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living.” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus finishes by saying, “To him they are all alive” (Lk. 20:38b).
When we Christians proclaim that God has destroyed death, what we mean is that God annuls the apparent victory death has over us. From our perspective, our loved ones die and they’re separated from us, but God has broken death’s power by giving us life on the other side of death. Jesus tells us that those who have died are alive to God. The one who holds the power of life makes us live again. God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
We believe in the resurrection of the body, a physical resurrection in a body that is perfect and glorious. Until the day of resurrection, we live in the hope of God’s promises. We hold on to faith, and we trust that what God has said will, indeed, be.
For now, we grieve Florence’s death because, from our perspective, death is always a tragedy. And yet, we can celebrate a life well-lived. Grief can be tempered by hope that God will not let even the smallest of God’s promises fall to the ground unfulfilled. God is the God of the living. For to God, Florence is alive and well.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
There’s only one story I want to share with you before I invite you to share about Florence. She may have been a hundred and ten years old, but in one sense, Florence died young. That’s because she never thought she was old. Yesterday, at my family’s Christmas gathering, my sister-in-law told me that she had once had Florence in her physical therapy sessions at Solarbron. She said, “Florence was awesome. She rocked the physical therapy and then complained to me that she didn’t want to do ‘those old-person exercises.’”
So yeah. Florence died young. Sometimes age is relative to one’s perspective.
Now, I invite you to stand and share your own memories of Florence as we remember the life of this remarkable woman of God.
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A Resurrection Like His, from Romans 6:3-5
In a moment I’m going to invite you to share your memories and stories about Lloyd. But before I do that I want to share with you the hope we have in Jesus Christ. One of the central teachings of the Christian Faith is a belief in the resurrection. In our Book of Worship, this isn’t called a funeral. It’s called A Service of Death and Resurrection. In fact, one of the reasons why we hold these services is to be reminded—even as we stare down the tragedy of death—that God has promised us life.
Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “…don’t you know that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we were buried together with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too can walk in newness of life. If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3-5, CEB).
Baptism was actually a Greek naval term, and it’s always been associated with death. The Greek word βαπτίζω simply means, to put under water. So, when the navy sank an enemy ship, they baptized it. When a ship was baptized, a lot of sailors were baptized with it, and died. The place where you’re sitting right now, in church architecture, is called the Nave. It’s the Latin word for ship.
In one sense, the church is seen as a ship weathering the storms: the tragedies—like death—that life throws at it. But in another sense, the church is like a ship that’s already gone down. Our only hope is in resurrection. Paul teaches us that baptism is symbolic death, and we who have been baptized have already been united to Christ in death. “If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5).
Paul’s words in Romans beg the question, what does a resurrection like the resurrection of Jesus look like? The reports of those who encountered Jesus after he was raised from the dead tell us several things. First, Jesus was raised in a physical body. He ate with his disciples. He cooked them breakfast over an open fire. He could be seen and touched. He walked beside people and held conversations with them. Thomas touched the scars left on his body by the crucifixion.
If our resurrection will be like that, then it gives us confidence the one we love and miss will be touchable again. The hugs we used to give and receive will be given and received again. We’ll have a body that we can know and recognize.
And yet, resurrection is much more than merely physical. Jesus, in his resurrection body, appeared in the midst of the disciples as they hid in rooms with locked doors. He moved freely, unbound by physical barriers. He went where he wanted to go, and appeared where he wanted to be. It tells us that his resurrection body was a perfect instrument of his will, as our bodies were meant to be. Resurrection is perfect restoration.
Jesus’s resurrection also tells us that there is more to God’s creation than what our eyes can see. He ascended into heaven after telling us that there is a place prepared for us not made with human hands. Everything humans make crumbles. Every house, every monument, every empire eventually comes to nothing. The fact that this place Jesus has prepared for us wasn’t made by human hands says it’s something different. It’s something eternal.
For now, we grieve the tragedy of death. And that’s okay, even necessary. But we grieve with hope because God has given us good news. Death is not the end. God has promised us resurrection to eternal life in a place not made with human hands.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Now, I invite you, Lloyd’s friends and family, to stand and share your stories and memories as we celebrate his life and the impact he had upon us.