Pastor Don's Journal Articles
Nothing so sets the stage for a remembrance of Christ's passion and then His resurrection as does a funeral. You could say that the burial of a loved one during Holy Week and Easter takes away from the joy of it all, and plants a sad memory to be forever associated with the holiday for a family. The blooming spring flowers, yes -- but now cut ones, arranged as a floral spray upon the coffin. Children laughing as they hunt for brightly colored eggs in one yard, while over the fence there is a cemetery with row after row of graves, and a gaping hole with a funeral home tent over top of it -- waiting for the procession of cars to arrive. Great and lingering grief.
This is where I found myself yesterday, on the most beautiful day so far this spring. We had a funeral service for long-time member Betty Elliott (June 29, 1928 -- April 5, 2017) who had belonged to First Baptist for over 67 years. We gathered in the chapel, a good crowd of mostly older members who had experienced so much of life with her across those years. Then we piled into our cars and drove to Mount Comfort for the interment.
Birds singing from the trees. Deer patiently biding their time at the edge of the woods until all of us would leave. A couple of planes overhead, their contrails intersecting against the blue sky. But mostly stillness and quiet as final, holy words were spoken.
Laying to rest a dearly loved Christian helps to focus our minds on the central truth of our Christian faith. Death happens, surely. We grieve, certainly. But "not as those who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14). The point of Easter is that death is not the ultimate victor. The grave does not have the final word or win in the end. Jesus arose and conquered death and, since He did, by His power we will have the very same experience! As believers in Jesus, we share in the accomplishments of His death and in the triumph of His resurrection. "Made like Him, like Him we rise," says the great hymn.
A freshly dug burial plot mocks us as it waits to swallow up our dead, right before our tear-stained faces and the faces of children who have never before stood in this spot. But because I know the story -- and am so counting on it being true that I have committed my life to it -- I do not give in to despair. Tony Campolo has that great Easter sermon: "It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming!" I thought yesterday: It's only Monday, but Sunday is indeed coming! I can bear the sadness of this day and hour because I know that Easter is filled with hope for us all.
As we turned to leave the gravesite yesterday, final goodbyes were whispered. A last touching of the casket. I heard the sobs of a granddaughter as she fell into the arms of her mother, she could hold in her great sadness no longer. Mary Magdalene, crying at the tomb in the moment just before her eyes were opened and she saw, her ears were opened so she heard Jesus call her by her name (John 20: 10-18). With one word, everything changed.
This Sunday morning, in whichever service you attend, listen for me to say with absolute assurance the ancient confession: "Jesus Christ is Risen.” Then respond with your own faith and in strong voice: "He is Risen Indeed!" Because it is true.