Service of Remembrance
Here's an old trivia question many of you may know the answer to: what is the shortest verse in the bible? We read it today. John 11: 35, “Jesus wept.” Pundits have argued for centuries why Jesus would weep when he knew he was about to raise his beloved friend back to life. And I don't want to get into those arguments but I share this thought, when Jesus chose to come to our world and to live a life fully human, he chose to share all of life. Being human meant there would be times of grief. We all face times of deep sorrow. The fact that Jesus wept with Mary and Martha tells us that Jesus shares our grief with us as well.
Our last clergy meeting was held at Johnson Hagglund and Erin shared a pamphlet on preparing for death. I was intrigued by the chart she shared. It is kind of like the stages of grief but seemed more proactive. Emotions run high in the first days after suffering a loss. Our healing begins as we find a way to see, hear and share about the life that was loss, usually through a funeral service. Family and friends, words of comfort, cards, and memorials all help with our emotional, relational and spiritual needs. Grief is a process. Our annual service of remembrance fits in this chart as we gather, connect, reflect and celebrate. When Julie reads the names of our loved ones here in community, we can share our grief as well as celebrate our remembrances of those we have lost this past year. For we do celebrate. Even though our hearts are heavy we live in the hope of reuniting with our loved ones in the place where, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain.” As Jesus told Mary and Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” We proclaim our faith in the power of Jesus to save in our baptism and in the rite of a Christian funeral. And so we can celebrate the joys we shared and remember the love, love that lives on in our memories and into eternity in Jesus.
I heard just a bit of a song some time back but this line stuck with me: “The only scars in Heaven are on the hands that hold you now;” the scarred hands of Jesus, scars from his death on the cross when he gave his life for the life of the world. Everyone besides Jesus will have a new and perfect body including our loved ones. And so we can celebrate that wonderful promise that their pain is ended, they are made whole and well in the presence of the Lord. And as I reflect on that, I think of the one church member we lost this year, Tom Townsend. You who knew Tom know both his lifetime struggle with Cerebral Palsy and his lifetime commitment as a worker for the Lord. We shared John 9: 1-3 at his funeral, “As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Using the viewpoint of Jesus toward the man born blind, Tom chose to see his life; chose to live his life “so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” And we who knew him are witnesses to God's work in him; God's love shared by him, God's presence displayed in his life. And we honor his life along with the lives of so many others today as we gather, connect, reflect and celebrate.
We are a people connected by our common faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. As such, we live in relationship with each other even as we live in relationship with God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are bound to one another by this common faith, now and for eternity. And this is why we hold a service of remembrance, we remember the bond we held in this life and we are reminded that we remain connected in covenant relationship forever.
We shared a couple of dog stories today. Remembering a beloved pet in the children's sermon. And the story Kennedy shared. It is a comfort to realize that we don't need to know all the answers to the questions we have about heaven and death and judgment. Our master Jesus is on the other side and our relationship with him gives us confidence to cross that bridge. And so has Paul has written in 1 Thessalonians 4: 13 “Brothers and sisters, we don't want you to be ignorant about those who have died. We don't want you to grieve like other people who have no hope.” Our hope is in Jesus Christ our Lord. It is the grace of God in Christ that makes this all a reality for us.
As we gather this morning to remember and to give thanks, we note to whom our thanks and praise belong: Jesus our Lord. Every time we gather in this church-- for worship, for potlucks, for bible study, for cleaning, for a funeral-- every time we should be reminded the church is here to honor Jesus our Lord. And we can remember the offer of the gift of salvation by grace. We want to honor our Lord this morning by inviting volunteers for a special choir song proclaiming the glory due to our great God. Thine is the Glory is a hymn of praise, for the victory of Jesus over the power of death. “For the Lord now liveth, death has lost its sting; endless is the victory, thou over death hast won.” That victory allows us to remember our loved ones with the wonderful hope that they and we will be reunited in Christ's deathless love. Amen.
Volunteer choir: Thine is the Glory 122 PH