This past week we held a funeral service for my father-in-law, Marcy Mathias Dupre, III. He retired as a Navy captain. Marcy put his life on the line in two wars during which time he served on various ships, commanded a destroyer and later flew fighter jets. His had a distinguished career, but not a particularly unusual one by military standards. What was unusual is that he lived a relatively healthy life for 96 years before experiencing what one family member described as a “good departure." Marcy had great DNA, for which we were thankful, but the inescapable truth is that no one gets out of here alive — not you, not me, not him.
If disease or tragedy does not take our life, our bodies will eventually wear out. Planned obsolescence. When death happens the world looks and shakes its head. All it sees is the end. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. When believers have a funeral we also see death as an end. In the first book of the Bible we are reminded, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Remember the “nobody gets out of here alive” part? So we Christians lay the truth out for everyone to acknowledge, “All of us go down to the dust” — it is just that for us there is more, “yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Translation — Praise God, praise God, praise God!"
How can we do that? Because we believe this dust is not the end, but a graduation — the seed of a new beginning. God gives us new bodies, eternal bodies, fit for living in his kingdom and in his presence forever. There is, however, a condition. The only way we get to enjoy such a body is through faith in Jesus. God’s Son made that clear when he proclaimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
This may sound harsh, but it is really good news. I doubt any of us is surprised by the realization that we are all rather nasty sinners. Oh, perhaps not so much for the things we do, but how about for the thoughts we entertain? You see, God judges our thoughts as well as our words and deeds. Ouch. His standard is absolutely fair — are you perfect? For only that which is perfect can earn its way into the presence of a most holy God. Everyone, regardless of age, gender, or station in life, is measured by the same standard — and all fall short of the mark. Sin separates. It separates us from one another, and it separates us from God. To be separated from one another is tragic enough, but to be separated from God is to be separated from the source of your life. To be separated from the source of your life delivers a consequence of death.
If God is simply “most holy," then even the unbelieving world is right, and death is the end of everyone’s story. But God is also “most loving." Listen again to Jesus’ words, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to redeem us from the consequences of our sin. To do so, Jesus took your sin and my sin and the sins of everyone in the whole world on his shoulders and carried them to the cross. There he suffered the consequences of sin in our place. But that is not the end of the story. On the third day God raised him from the dead. Sin and death were defeated. Praise God!
So for those of us who believe, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ — not even death. That is why even at the grave we sing, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:54f). That, my friends, is good news.
The Rev. Mike Hesse, former senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church, is now retired and living in Destin.