Hope for the Christian Dead

Hope for the Christian Dead

December 1, 2014 | HNMWebmaster | Advent, Comfort, Deacon Eddie, Eternal Life, Hope, Service, Strength, Trust

Updike Funeral Home’s Annual Memorial Service
November 30, 2014
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers,
about those who have fallen asleep,
so that you may not grieve like the rest,
who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose,
so too will God, through Jesus,
bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

Indeed, we tell you this,
on the word of the Lord,
that we who are alive,
who are left until the coming of the Lord,
will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord himself, with a word of command,
with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God,
will come down from heaven,
and the dead in Christ will rise first.

Then we who are alive, who are left,
will be caught up together with them in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air.
Thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Therefore, console one another with these words.

Today is a very special day. It is a very rare convergence of days. In fact, this special alignment of the months of the year with the Christian seasons will not happen again until 2025. The first thing that makes this day so special is that it is November 30th, the last day of the month of All Souls. This month began with All Saints day, or to phrase it differently, All Hallows day. This is where we get the name for the last day of October, All Hallows Eve – or Halloween. Throughout the centuries, Christians have spent this month remembering all their loved ones who have gone before them. We reflect on their lives and we look forward to the time when we will see them again.

The second reason that today is so special is that today is the first Sunday of Advent. This is a two-part season of preparation. We, as Christians, should be preparing ourselves to celebrate the birth of our Savior – that day when the son of God humbled himself and became one of us. That day that ushered in a new time of hope for mankind. But we should also be preparing ourselves for the time when Jesus will come again in glory, to usher in an eternity of peace and tranquility.

So, today is a day of remembrance and hope, a day for looking back and for looking forward. This spirit is reflected beautifully St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. I love this letter because it gives us a glimpse at the early Christians and we can see that they were not that different from us. They missed their loved ones and were concerned that they had died before Jesus returned.

So, brothers and sisters, with that in mind, I would like to invite you to reflect on a few points with me today.

The first is this: Death is not just an ending, it is also a beginning. It is a part of life, and because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, we need not fear. During one of my classes to become a permanent deacon, we watched a movie titled “Whit.” It is the story of an academic named Vivian Bearing, played by Emma Thompson, who is forced to reflect on her life and the choices she has made when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

In one scene she thinks back to a conversation that she had with her mentor, Dr. Evelyn Ashford, when she was in graduate school. Vivian had translated a sonnet by John Donne and Dr. Ashford is very critical of her work. Vivian’s translation went like this:

“and Death shall be no more; (semi-colon) Death, thou shalt die! (exclamation point)”

Dr. Ashford insists that it should have been translated like this:

“and death shall be no more, (comma) death, thou shalt die.”

She goes on to say, “With the proper punctuation restored, Death is no longer something to act out on a stage with exclamation marks. It is a comma. A pause.”

My pastor, Father Sal, never says that someone has died. Instead he says that they were “born into life eternal.” That is what death is. It is a step from life here on earth into eternal joy with God. Most of us, when we are young, don’t think much about death, and when we do, it seems far away. It’s something to worry about years in the future.

Well, now that I am firmly middle aged, I’ve become much more aware of my own mortality. More and more often, my friends are facing serious illnesses. Some have not survived. One of them was my friend Dave Dwyer.

He was one of my classmates during my studies to become a deacon. He was a man of great faith and he loved studying and serving others. One Friday night, we had a workshop and Dave wasn’t feeling well. When he didn’t show up for class on Saturday morning, a couple of my friends went to check on him and found him unconscious on the floor of his hotel room. He was rushed to the hospital, and the diagnosis was quick. It was a brain tumor and they did not think he would survive the initial surgery. Well, not only did he survive, he was back in class a month later. He finished our classes and was ordained with our group.

Even after his quick recovery from the first surgery, Dave knew that the cancer would take his life. This, however, did not stop him from serving the Lord. This brings me to a second point that I would like to make; everyday we spend on earth is a gift that can be used for good. It is a chance to make a difference in the lives of those around us. Dave gave thanks to God for the gift of serving others and he encouraged others to do the same. At his funeral, the church was overflowing with people whose lives had been touched by Dave.

The final point I would like you all to consider is this; we are all children of God. Those of us alive on the earth are joined with our brothers and sisters in heaven. Together, we form one Church of Jesus Christ. Catholics have a term for this. We call it the Church Militant & Church Triumphant.

The Church Triumphant is all of our loved ones who have gone before us. They have blazed the trail that we should follow. They have run the race and have received their prize. They have endured the sufferings of this earth and are living with Angels awaiting the second coming of our Lord. All of us here today are part of the Church Militant because we are still fighting the good fight. We must resist daily the temptations of this world because the forces of evil are at work all around us. Their objective is our ruin. Their delight is our sorrow and despair. Their hope is our hopelessness. Because, when we give into these feelings, we turn our eyes away from the good that is God.

Our brothers and sisters in heaven can help us. They can be our guide and our example. They are waiting for us to join them. I would like to leave you today with some words from one of my favorite hymns. They come from Isaiah and are quoted by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

“Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him. Spirit of love, come give us the mind of Jesus. Teach us the wisdom of God.”