Friday’s Essay - Long After Tomorrow
Below is the podcast of an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can find other essays, sermons, devotion, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.
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Tomorrow I’m leading the service for our sister Phyllis Manley who passed earlier this week. Of course, in my thirty years as a minister, I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of funerals. And even though the specifics are always different, I still believe that there are three things that family and friends can always remember.
You see, first, in the face of death, I think it’s important for us to remember that we were and are and will always be in the hands of God and that those hands are loving and gracious and merciful. And I’ll tell you, that’s possible for us to do the minute we make the decision to trust. You see, we can decide to trust that Jesus Christ came, you know, he entered our time and space, and that during his life, he showed over and over again the freedom and love of God. And we can decide to trust that he was crucified for us, and I’m talking about all of us. In other words, he was hung on a cross to save the very people who drove the nails. And we can decide to trust that this same person, this same Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, reminding everyone that time has expired, the game is over and death lost. And then we can decide to trust that when he ascended back to the Father, he brought our humanity in the nature of God himself. Now that’s important, and I’ll tell you why. When we pray, we’re not laying our fears and frustrations and doubt before a God who can’t understand what we feel. Rather, through Christ, he’s been where we are and felt what we feel and endured what we’ll endure, even death itself. You see, those four truths are at the center of our faith. But you know, even if we decide not to trust and to pretend that none of this happened, that doesn't change the fact that Christ came and died and was raised and ascended, and that doesn't change the fact that we are still in God’s loving hands. And as we struggle through grief, I think that’s one thing we need to remember.
Just like I believe we need to remember that like he’s lead those who’ve gone before us through death, the time’s going to come when he’ll do the same for us. That’s the second thing we might need to remember. You know, it’s like that Psalm a lot of us memorized when we were kids:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23)
You see, that God, who like a good shepherd takes care of his sheep, man he’s already led some of those whom we love through the valley of the shadow of death. And when it's our time, he's going to do the same thing for us. This is the something else I think we need to remember.
And finally, I believe it’s important to remember that we're going to see all those who’ve gone before us again. And we’re going to see them in a new heaven and new earth. I mean, just listen to how John of Patmos described it in his revelation:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
And I, John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him;
And they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads.
And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 21:1-4; 22:3b-5)
You see, this is our future. This is our destiny; a place where there will be no pain and no suffering and no parting, because all that stuff is gone forever. And this is something we can remember, too.
Tomorrow, I pray that God will use my words to offer comfort and peace to Phyllis’s family and to all her friends. And as I begin to consider what I’m going to say, I know that I’ll be thinking about these three truths: that God holds us in his loving hands and that he’ll lead us through death to the glory that awaits of the other side and that when that day comes, there’ll be a reunion like nothing we’ve seen on earth. I know this will be on my mind, and I hope it’s on your minds too. And you know, if it is, those truth might affect us long after tomorrow.