Sermon audio here.
Sometimes people mistakenly think the Christian faith is about being happy. This isn’t the church of Pharrell; it’s the Church of Christ, and He was a Man of many sorrows. Happiness is a wonderful gift of God, but sorrow is also godly. Sometimes people think it’s wrong to mourn, that it’s either a sign of weakness or sinful. It is not. Our Lord Himself wept. This was no sign of weakness, but a sign of how deeply He loves you.
There has been a lot of weeping the past two weeks. New tears appeared daily in the hospital even after it seemed they had surely run dry. Jean was deeply loved, and that’s why we mourn.
But we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. Job didn’t, even though he had lost more than most us will ever have. He was a wealthy man with a large family. But after the tragic death of his children, loss of everything he owned, and even debilitating illness, you couldn’t have blamed him if he took his wife’s advice to curse God and die.
But he didn’t. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”
A few Sundays ago—in between visits to the hospital—I was struck by something in the liturgy. We say it often enough—every Sunday, in fact—but this phrase struck me as odd, especially in light of what Jean had been going through. We pray, “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, O Lord.”
The fact is, you don’t usually feel like praising God while a loved one is dying. But this is why the liturgy is good; it reminds us of things we would surely forget otherwise, like giving thanks to God at a time such as this. And that’s exactly what Job did, in spite of the profound grief he was feeling. That’s what Paul & Silas did while they were in jail. And that’s what Roxanne, Kim, Jesse & I were doing at Jean’s bedside for the past few weeks.
In Christ, there is always a reason to give thanks to God, even in the hour of death. Job knew better than to trust his feelings. He knew they could only lead him away from Christ. Instead, he trusted God’s Word, and there he found a reason to give thanks to God.
Job could have easily given up on life, and he had every reason in the world to. But he didn’t, because he knew there’s more to life than what this world can offer. He said, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” He knew Christ’s promise that whoever believes in Him shall never die. He knew that his children lived, that nothing could separate them from Christ’s love except unbelief. And he knew that on the Last Day, after his skin had been destroyed, he would yet in his flesh see God.
Despite the loss of everything he held dear, Job found the strength to carry on in the proclamation that his Redeemer lives. This proclamation is the only place that you will find peace. Memories are great, but they aren’t a substitute for the real thing. In Christ, you have the real thing. Christ lives, and so does Jean. He promises that those who commune with Him now will have eternal communion with Him and all His saints in heaven. We mourn, but we do not mourn as those who have no hope.
Christ didn’t, as we see on this Maundy Thursday. The most profound suffering anyone could ever experience was borne by Christ in the garden while He pleaded with His Father.
It wasn’t just that death was imminent. Christ’s death was different from the Christian’s in that in His, He bore the wrath and judgment of God. As much as it must have hurt to have been abandoned by His disciples when He needed them most, this didn’t even compare to being forsaken by His Father. Though this is what we deserve, Christ stands in our place and cries out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Knowing what lie ahead, it’s no wonder His sweat became like great drops of blood in Gethsemane.
But even in the midst of this, Christ has comfort and peace. And if He could, so could Job, and so can we. Christ has this peace because He knew the will of God is always best, that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, even when it feels like the opposite is happening. And so He prayed, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
God has indeed worked even such a bitter enemy as death for Jean’s good. By death, He has brought an end to the weariness she experienced in this life and has given her rest. This is why Scripture says, “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” and, “blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” As profoundly as you may be hurting, you hurt for yourself, not for Jean. The comfort she now has is equal only to the measure of Christ’s suffering. It is right to give thanks to God even today, for Jean’s sorrows have ended.
Notice how the apostle describes the death of Christ versus the death of the Christian: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.” Jesus dies so that the Christian might not die, but merely fall asleep. In His Passion, Christ dies as no one else. There is no greater comfort than seeing how Christ, by His death, has put an end to death. Jean’s body rests in peaceful sleep, but her soul is very much alive and awaits the resurrection of the Body and the life of the world to come.
And so we keep our eyes fixed on the death of Christ, for it is there that we find life. Within the communion of His Church, Christ keeps our eyes fixed on Him and brings comfort in every sorrow, as He did for Jean. Those words we just sang were true of her:
I walk with Jesus all the way,
His guidance never fails me;
Within His wounds I find a stay
When Satan’s pow’r assails me;
And by His footsteps led,
My path I safely tread.
No evil leads my soul astray;
I walk with Jesus all the way.
May these words be true of you also. Then goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life and you will dwell—with Jean and all who sleep in Christ—in the house of the Lord forever.
Soli Deo Gloria