You have to admit that Christian funerals are very unusual events. Yes, we are confronted with our ultimate enemy. Death. It has triumphed once more, it has taken one more person from our midst, someone loved, dear and important to many of you, this time our sister in Christ, Doris Grieger.
Death comes and takes us all. One by one. We never know when it will happen. We know only the inevitable fact, that we will lose in this battle. When your time is over, death will take you, and you won’t be able to resist it.
There is nothing comforting or dignifying in death. It is a violent and unnatural end of someone’s life.
Why did I say, that Christian funerals are so unusual? Because for us, Christians it is not the end. Not at all! We have a firm assurance and hope, more, we have a firm and unshakeable knowledge that death does not have the final say.
We know that death itself has been defeated. Sure, it still reigns in this time, but it has been denied of its ultimate power. Thus for us, Christians, death is only a temporary threat, it is not our ultimate fate.
This is why Christian funerals are so unusual. On the one hand, we are saddened by the loss and separation from our loved ones. But on the other hand, there is this joy and hope.
For we know that death has been defeated, that we will have our lives back, our bodies back, our resurrected and perfect bodies to live in God’s presence, and we’ll triumph over death and this our triumph will be final.
Doris’ family chose for today’s address this verse from the very last book in the Bible, the Revelation. „Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” This verse was Doris’ confirmation verse.
We sometimes tend to pick some texts out of the Bible, for they sound great, and forget about the context where they come from. These words actually come from the text of letter which the apostle John was supposed to send to the church in Smyrna.
These words were spoken to John by someone, who identified Himself as ‘the first and the last [the One] who died and came to life’. This letter was a letter of encouragement. It begun with words „I know your tribulations… do not fear what you are about to suffer…”
We all live in the world, were we can’t escape tribulations and suffering. They may come at different times, they may come in different forms, they may come do different people in different situation and doses. But they come. You know it.
How encouraging is it – to hear these words from the One, who is the first and the last, who died and came back, who defeated death. First, these words show that He cares for you. Because each of you are important to Him.
Second, they show that He is aware about what is going on and what will be going on. Events in our lives often don’t make sense to us, even if we want them to.
How good and liberating it is to know that whatever happens, your Lord, your God, Almighty, the One who defeated death, knows everything about your situation and is in control.
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer…” for as the apostle Paul wrote: „Your God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your ability.” (1Co 10:13) He will provide for you the way to escape so that you can endure to the end.
„Do not fear…” Jesus Christ says these words, knowing that we actually fear many things. We fear loss of loved ones, poverty, sickness, loneliness, we fear to be useless, abandoned, to be burden to others, but ultimately – we may fear death.
How comforting it is to know that Jesus Christ, the first and the last, is well aware of your fear, and even more, that He Himself assures you that you don’t need to fear these things. They may come, but they definitely will go. He is in control.
As for you, „be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life”. (Rev 2:10) These words actually are not so comforting, unless we understand what they mean in their context.
Be faithful unto death. Be faithful! Every one of you have been taught how to life properly, what is right and what is wrong. Some may have been taught more carefully, some less, but most people try to be good according to their best knowledge.
But as you try to be faithful, even to human expectation, not even to mention God’s law, you find that you fail so often. You fall short so often. If someone thinks they don’t, it is only because they are blind to their shortcomings.
The fact remains, that we all fail, we constantly fail to be faithful, especially if measured according to God’s standards, and at the end of the day these are the only standards that matter.
Doris was brought up in Christian family, she knew God’s standards for our lives very well. She did as much as she could to be faithful, but as everyone else, she felt short. She couldn’t be faithful unto death. None of us can.
That’s why it is so important to understand this verse properly. It is not what you do, that will grant you the crown of life, it is about whom you trust. The first and the last, the One who overcame death says to you:
“Stop fearing, I am with you, I will be with you till the end of your days, you are my child, trust me even in face of death and I will give you the crown of life.” I promise.
Crowns are given to victors. Crowns of live are given to those who have conquered death. Doris will receive the crown of life. Not because of how she lived, not because she has conquer death, no, but because she trusted and was united with her Lord, Jesus Christ, the One who is the true victor over death.
When we last time celebrated the Holy Communion together with Doris, just a few month ago, she was full of joy and peace. She was joking and apologizing for not being able to make cookies for pastor… she didn’t have fear. She had trust. Faith.
She knew that the crown of life awaits her, not because of her faithfulness, but because her Lord and Saviour, the first and the last, Jesus Christ had promised it to her. She knew that He is faithful unto death and that He will keep His promise.
I pray today that the Holy Spirit would grant you all this trust, this firm hope and assurance that neither your attempts to be faithful, nor your failures, but the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ will give you the crown of life.