Saturday, 20 May 2006

A Funeral Sermon on John 11: For Edna Reynolds

An homily delivered on Monday, May 15, 2006. Verse numbers are in John, chapter 11.
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." 12 His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead...
The Bible has a way of cutting through life to the bone. The writer of Hebrews wrote that
the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4.12).
And so it is for us this afternoon. Edna is dead and it hurts. Her death, too, pierces to the division of our souls and spirits. The pain brings our deep thoughts and intentions of our hearts into sharp focus. What is life for? Is this all there is? Where do we go when we die? Where is Edna now?

Let’s see how Martha and Mary dealt with such questions in their grief.
20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
Two responses in grief: Martha, the doer, goes to Jesus to meet him and take him to task. Mary stayed home. Both are valid. We are all wired differently. Some of us will wrestle with events like this. Others accept. There’s no sense that either way is wrong.

Grief is a God-given thing. It enables us to express feelings which, if we kept them bottled inside, can harm us emotionally. People say some silly things to those who are grieving: to a husband who’s lost a wife—you’ll get over it. Nonsense. You won’t get over it, but you will learn to cope. God must have needed your wife more than you did. Nonsense. Grieve as you need to. Weep when you need to weep. Laugh when you feel like laughing. It may be embarrassing from time to time. But don’t let well-meaning friends shut you down.

Let’s go with Martha for a moment…
21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." 23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
A note on believing, or putting our faith and trust in something or someone. It’s a choice we make. It requires going beyond evidence. There is evidence that can support belief, but there always comes the leap of faith. We do it all the time. For example, when we marry someone, despite the statistics on marriage failure, despite any obstacles—and I am reminded of those John and Edna overcame to be married—we choose to believe in our love for one another and we go for it even in the face of opposition.

It’s the same with Jesus and the resurrection. There’s evidence to support it—compelling evidence—but we still come to that jumping-off point and we have to decide.

And that’s where we are this afternoon in the midst of our grief; living through one of those fork-in-the-road, life-choice moments. Because of Edna’s life among us, as we honour her and enjoy our good memories of her time with us, we have an opportunity to make a choice to believe or not. Either Edna will rise again, Jesus is the resurrection and the life, anyone who believes in him will live, even though we die and whoever lives and believes in Jesus will never die. Or not.

Martha made her choice even when she must have been disappointed, even angry, at Jesus because he hadn’t come in time.
27 "Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world."
We’ll have an opportunity to declare our belief later in this service.

Then Mary arrives on the scene.
32When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
And haven’t we all said something like that. Lord, if you had healed—had intervened—been more obviously present—answered my prayers—this wouldn’t have happened. And we weep.

Look at Jesus’ reaction…
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 "Where have you laid him?" he asked. "Come and see, Lord," they replied. 35 Jesus wept.
That’s the shortest verse in the Bible. Jesus wept. Why? He knew what was going to happen. He said so earlier. He knew what he was going to do. Why would he weep? I believe he wept for the anguish he saw in Martha and Mary because they really where his friends. I believe he wept for every tear that ever was shed, and will be shed, by those who grieve in this fallen world he came to save and to give eternal life. I believe he wept then, for what John and Phil and Barbara and Jeremy and Christopher and Gemma are going through now. I believe he weeps with us still.
36 Then the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?"
Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept Edna from dying? The $64,000 question: a tough one. Why could he not raise Edna, like he did Lazarus? My answer is, I don’t know.
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 "Take away the stone," he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."
Again, we come face to face with real-life in the Bible: a bad smell. Life stinks sometimes. If we’re honest, this is one of those times. Cancer stinks. It’s an enemy which must be defeated.
40 Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
So Lazarus was raised from the dead. What a party that must have been? Imagine the questions he was asked. Where did you go? What was it like? How did it feel?

But Lazarus’ resurrection was a temporary one. He died again. The Bible doesn’t tell us when. So in the end he is just like Edna and us who wait for the resurrection on the last day.
45Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him
Notice, though, why Jesus raised Lazarus. So the people who saw it would believe that God sent him. And, as we heard, many did.

Jesus said, if we believe, we will see the glory of God. And so we will. There will come a day when Jesus returns in all his Risen Glory and we will experience a weight and a wonder of such Glory as is beyond our imagining. For some of us it will be a welcome and wonderful thing, for others a terror. That is in the future.

In the meantime, Jesus’ statement is true in another way. If we believe that Edna was made in the image of God then we got to see something of the Glory of God in her. This is especially true for John. One of the ways God revealed his glory to John is through Edna. One of the ways God revealed and continues to reveal his glory to Barbara, Phil and Jeremy is through Edna, their mother. That hasn’t ended. God’s glory is present in the good memories of Edna they enjoy.