Coming to Your Own Funeral

 originally published on www.re-yourlife.com

I recently witnessed a family go through a tragedy that every family hopes to avoid – the loss of a child. It was unexpected, mind-boggling, word-suffocating, and in a phrase, just plain wrong. It’s the kind of thing that stops a person in his tracks. It’s one of those events that suddenly re-orders all things in life – we’re instantly brought back around to the knowledge of what is most important.

As I considered this event from my more distant perspective, I was reminded of a comment from a friend. He recently compared the time of confession during a normal church service with the idea of a funeral. He asked the congregation if they knew they were coming to their own funeral that day. Not the most positive outlook during worship, some might say, since worship is generally assumed to be a happy time. Yet he asked anyway, bringing to light the reality of our confession before God.

When we come to God in confession during worship, and subsequently receive absolution of sins, we are reliving a moment that is common in each of our lives. That moment is our baptism, when God washed us clean of our utterly sinful nature, the old man was drowned, we literally died ourselves in that moment, only to be raised again, new, whole, pure, forgiven, sin-free[1]. We’ve already participated once already in our own funeral. We’ve been privy to our own death and have already experienced resurrection.

Reflecting on our baptism is meant to give us hope. Hope comes to us now in our confession, that when we confess and look to God for his redeeming forgiveness which is conveyed in our baptism and promised to us forevermore, we can be assured that it is ours and live as the forgiven children of God that He has made us to be. Hope also comes to us though not yet realized, that when physical death overtakes us, as it will overtake us all, we can be certain that in Christ, just as in our baptism, we will rise again.

As I was driving to the memorial service for the young man who had died, I was thinking of a lot of things. I wondered what I would do if this event were closer to me, if it had been one of my family members. And I also thought about how the family must have been feeling. Pain, loss, anger. I’m sure they were considering that unanswerable question that haunts us all in the aftermath of such events, “Why?” The question is often posed in the anger that accompanies such feelings of misunderstanding and loss. As Christians, we have some solace in the hope that comes to us through our faith, and through sacraments like baptism. But anger is not absent from us in such times. It is one of a plethora of emotions by which we are overcome.

Death and tragedy have the uncanny ability to bring about such anger in each of us. The reminder of death brings us to the reality of the paradox in which we live. For although in baptism the old man was drowned and we were given a new identity in Christ, “the wages of sin is death”[2] and until physical death overtakes us, we who are new creatures still fight the old Adam within us. Saint AND sinner we are. When we are a witness to death and anger begins to boil within us, it is as if we stand face to face with the old man who plagues us. We hate him. We hate the consequences we must pay because of him. We hate also, when we have to witness the payment of these consequences by others. Anger then, is no surprise.

Moments like these bring newfound clarity to the Scriptures. In the end of Romans, chapter 7, Paul asks “Who will rescue from this body of death?”[3] How appropriate it was for him to use this analogy in his letter to the Romans. It was customary punishment for Romans who had killed a person to wear the body of the victim strapped onto them indefinitely. For as that body decayed, the decay would be transmitted onto and into the body of the murderer. It would only be a matter of time before the one who carried the body would succumb to his own death. Roman punishment was as artistic as it was gruesome. How ironic that the killer’s victim would indeed deal the final blow to the killer himself.

Paul’s question brings to mind the same pain which the old Adam causes us. As we carry this body of death, our own end is inevitable. Funerals are always a grave reminder of this truth. But Paul’s answer to his own question reveals a truth we find hidden in our baptism. “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”[4]

Just as we experienced a foretaste in our first resurrection, as we arose from the waters of baptism, we live with the assurance that Christ, who endured the same physical death as is imminent for us, and who also was raised by God in the Resurrection, so too will we be raised by Him, for He alone is our rescue. So we say with Paul, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”

The next time you’re attending a funeral, remember the first death from which Christ has already raised you. Let not the pain overwhelm you as if it is the absolute end. Re-Focus on Christ, who has rescued you once, and at the end, will rescue you fully again.

 


[1] II Corinthians 5:17

[2] Romans 3.23

[3] Romans 7.24

[4] Romans 7.25

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