Friday, April 22, 2011

Eunice Cornelia Bradfield Smith (Jan. 1, 1928 - April 17, 2011)

My sweet grandmother, affectionately called "Nanny" by us grandchildren, passed away this past week. I was asked to speak to the family at the graveside. Below is slightly polished version of what I shared.

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One reason I'm a Christian, and perhaps one of the more under-appreciated aspects of Christianity, is that Jesus has not left us wandering aimlessly through life trying to understand the meaning of it all. In fact, it is quite the opposite: God has given us an astonishing number of clear and concrete truths about ultimate reality upon which we can build our hopes and allay our sorrows.

Paul gives us such a truth in 1 Thessalonians 4:

13 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. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

The first thing I notice in this passage is that, even though Paul will go on to assure his hearers that those who die in Christ are secure and will be resurrected, he doesn't tell them not to mourn.

Instead, he teaches them how to mourn.

When a Christian dies, we mourn, but it is a peculiar mourning. There is apparently a way to grieve as if there is no hope (which is the wrong way), and there is a way to sorrow that does not undermine hope. And Paul says the latter is how we ought to mourn.

So what does it mean to mourn with hope? I think Paul gives us a hint in 2 Corinthians 6 when he says that in difficulty he is "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." Even in a time of mourning, there is a deep river of joy that sustains us in the hope that death is dead in Christ; that, as my brother noted this week, the end is not the end for those who are in Jesus.

And that is the concrete truth we cling to now. We do not cling to vague optimism that Nanny was a good person and so she must be in heaven. We don't offer sympathetic platitudes to one another in an attempt place a band-aid on a deep wound.

Instead, we go to the truth Jesus has given us, and we find rest for our souls.

And so:

The end is not the end for those who are in Christ, because Romans 6 says that those who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into his death; and if we have died with Christ we will also live with him.

The end is not the end for those who are in Christ, because if "Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep." (1 Thess. 4:14)

The end is not the end for those who are in Christ, because, in Christ, "Death is swallowed up in victory." (1 Cor. 15)

The end is not the end for those who are in Christ, because "the dead in Christ will rise first." (1 Thess. 4:16)

And the end is not the end for those who are in Christ, not just because there will be a resurrection, but because Jesus Christ IS the resurrection. (John 11:25)

On Sunday afternoon, Nanny reached the end of her life here, and it is right and good that we grieve over that. But I'm confident she would say, with Paul, that we should mourn with a settled joy, knowing that she is more alive at this moment than we could ever imagine.

As C.S. Lewis noted, we live in the Shadowlands; in less reality than we will one day know. But Nanny is no longer in the Shadowlands. She is basking in the light of ultimate reality in the presence of Christ. And though we miss her, we rejoice that we will see her again, and know her in a fullness of life greater than we have ever imagined possible, because we will know her in the full experience of the Resurrection and the Life: Jesus Christ.

2 comments:

Wesley Morrison said...

Thanks for sharing again, Michael. Truly blessed me.

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