But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13
In a previous devotion, I told the story of my very first funeral as a pastor (you can read that here).
This is the story of my first church funeral for a member of the congregation I served after I graduated from seminary.
I arrived at my church in late June and started making visits to congregational members in July.
He was one of my first visits as he had cancer and was in the final stages. I visited with him nearly every week throughout the summer.
Ae we got into the fall, I increased my visits to a couple of times a week for a couple of weeks.
Then in the late fall the Lord Christ summoned him home.
He was a long-time member of the congregation and everyone in the community knew him. He also had a large family that lived in the area.
But I hardly knew him – only having met him a few months earlier. I only knew him as a very sick man who was determined to have a “blessed death,” as Martin Luther called it.
After he died, I met with the family in their home. It was there that I began to hear this man’s story from his family. And what a wonderful story it was!
He was a loving husband and father. He was a hard worker. He provided for his family and his community. He served his congregation faithfully.
Yet none of this saved this man. I knew that from my studies of Scripture and Lutheran theology (still fresh in my mind, being out of the seminary only a few months).
But they also knew this. This man brought his family to worship faithfully each week. They heard the stern warnings and conviction of Gods’ Law week in and week out.
They heard the beautiful joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ week in and week out.
They knew that this man’s life was lived in response to the love God showered on him by grace alone through faith alone.
They also knew that this man’s death was, as Martin Luther says, “nothing but pure grace, aye, the beginning of life. For since death causes the soul to become well, our bodily existence – whatever it may be, sickness, danger, trouble, and labor – must serve our best interests, so that we could not desire anything better…. Hence death is given as a remedy that it might destroy itself, slay sin, and help the spirit to salvation” (quoted in What Luther Says, ©1959 CPH, pp 382-3).
They knew that their husband, father, and grandfather was in heaven seeing Jesus face to face.
The funeral service we planned was to be a celebration! We were going to gather together to thank the Lord for the life and faith he had given to this man.
The text I chose was from 1 Thessalonians and the title of the message was “Grieve with Hope.”
When death happens, we grieve. Being a Christian doesn’t eliminate grieving or make it wrong. Certainly we grieve!
Death is a result of sin! Death is a result of fallen humanity. There is a lot to grieve! Death was not part of the initial plan of God for us!
Since the Fall into sin, death touches everyone. Everyone grieves at a death.
But not everyone grieves the same.
Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior grieve at death with no hope, or hope in the wrong things. There is no hope because there is no salvation found in anyone or anything else other than Jesus Christ.
But a Christian grieves with hope at the death of another Christian. The hope is that of eternal life. Not a hope as in, “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” It may or may not rain tomorrow and there’s no certainty in that forecast.
A Christian grieves with the sure and certain hope of eternal life. Eternal life will happen. Jesus promises it for those who have faith in him. That hope is an attitude of assurance that Jesus Christ keeps his promises of eternal life!
That second funeral in my pastoral calling – second in what has turned out to be hundreds in the 22 years since – was a celebration. It was joyous, if not subdued.
But that family taught me what it was to grieve with hope!
©2017 True Men Ministries