Originally scheduled for December 30
Once in a while you get to go to the funeral of
a genuinely distinguished Christian. I’m speaking of a man who has
devoted his life to the church, living the Christian life so well
that his family and his friends knew him as “the real thing.” A man
in whom there is no hypocrisy, just the imitation of Christ. Such
funerals are often well attended, and occasionally some of the
guests are people who are not Christians. They tend to have a very
interesting reaction to this: they think all these people who are
Christians must be nuts.
Why is a funeral like this such a surprise?
Most of the funerals a non-Christian goes to are rather sad affairs.
After all, there is no real hope — either for the deceased or for
the mourners. When you’re dead, you’re dead. You might have some
spiritual leader delivering a vague message of hope that there must
be something out there. There may be something out there — but the
non-Christian can’t see it. In this day and age, if you can’t see it
then it doesn’t exist. There is no hope without Christ.
That’s what surprises the non-Christian: hope.
It seems that all these Christians know that they will see this
person again in much better circumstances. The task at hand is not
to mourn and grieve but to celebrate. A Christian funeral brings out
all the funny pictures, all the stories from family and friends that
bring a laugh or sometimes a tear. Often enough, it’s not called a
funeral. It’s called what it is: a celebration. It’s as if death is
different for the Christian. It is.
Why is death so different for the Christian?
Let’s look at what’s changed.
Death has lost its real sting: sin.
Let’s face it: most of humankind believes in a judgment to come.
There is a god out there someplace, and he is just and righteous.
We’re sinners — and he’s going to do something about it. The
Christian knows that God already has done something about it.
For the Christian judgment has given
way to redemption. Yes; something has to be done about sin. It has
to be paid for. It has been — by Christ on the Cross.
To the great surprise of the
non-Christian, we do indeed expect to see this person again. Not
just in some vague, gaseous spiritual form, but in the resurrection
body. The church has always taught that Christ returns in joyful
reunion with all of his saints. Lift up your heads; redemption
The real cause of this celebration is Christ
himself. He is the one who has paid the price of sin, doing so at
the Cross. Sin is a debt; but the Christian has his debt marked
paid. The story does not end at the Cross; after the cross comes the
tomb, and after the tomb comes the resurrection. It is the triumph
of life conducted by the author of life.
The Christian life is the imitation of Christ.
There is one thing in his life that he asks you to remember on a
regular basis: his sacrifice on the Cross. That’s what communion is:
remembering. As you take the cup remember his blood shed for you; as
you take the bread remember his body broken for you. Do this in a
worthy and noble manner, until he comes again. Then we shall see the
fruits of the resurrection.