1 Thessalonians 4:13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.
The difference between the funeral of a believer in Christ and a Buddhist funeral is extreme. I once had a Catholic priest tell me that funerals were his most effective tool of evangelism, precisely because of that difference. Japan has a “festival of the dead” every year in the middle of August, when they send off the spirits of those who have died in the previous year, and when they say the dead come back to visit for about three days. There are so many ironies and paradoxes involved that I won’t go into it here. At the crematorium the attendant will open the viewing window above the deceased’s face for family and friends to “say a final good-bye” before the coffin (usually heavy cardboard or thin plywood) is put into the cremation oven. At Christian funerals, I, and most other pastors I have heard, say things about “We’ll be seeing them,” and “They are already with the Lord.” Most of mankind is enslaved to a fear of death, and sadly that includes many supposed Christians. I know people, particularly some who have lost children, who never seem to get out from under the burden of grief. That is so pathetic, particularly because it is so unnecessary for anyone who knows Christ, and that is precisely what Paul is talking about here. When Jesus said to the man on the cross next to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise,” (Luke 23:43) why should we be worried about death?
This naturally applies to me, as it does to every person alive. I’ve seen a lot of people leave this life, and once went to pick up one of our older members for church, only to discover they were already among the throng before the Throne. The ambulance crew and the police weren’t quite sure what to make of my response to having made the discovery, but the brother was 82, lived alone, and was more than ready to go. I was glad for him! I well remember when my own parents graduated, but they weren’t the first I had observed, and I wasn’t physically present for them, except at the burial of their ashes. I have absolutely no fear of my own death, but I’ll confess to not being excited about the idea of my wife going first, which she’s likely to do. However, she’s not worried about her own death because she’s already been to heaven once and come back, so she’s excited to go again. As a pastor, I seek to help believers understand the hope that is indeed laid up for them. We don’t have many details, but we know it will be glorious! We aren’t to try to duck out of whatever the Lord has for us to do here, but we should have the assurance that what awaits us is far better!
Father, thank You for this reminder. I’ll be separated from Cathy for three days this week because of a business trip, and such things are a reminder that temporal things are indeed temporary. Help us both focus on You and what You have for us, both now and in the future, and rest, relax, and rejoice in You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!