"If people who don't know Jesus want to know the difference Jesus makes, let them come to our funerals."
A friend told me that years ago. I thought of it again this week as I joined one of our dear friends in mourning the loss of his precious wife. They've poured out their lives for others in one of this world's very troubled places. Because of the violence around them, one of their little daughter's first words was "rocket." But a year ago the bomb that changed everything was one word in a doctor's office - "cancer." Last week, after a brave fight against that killer, Nancy breathed her last. And that little daughter, now a beautiful young woman who so mirrors her mother, sang at Nancy's memorial service - with a glow that defied the grief...
Still, my soul, be still, and do not fear
Though winds of change may rage tomorrow
God is at your side, no longer dread
The fires of unexpected sorrow.
God, You are my God, and I will trust in You and not be shaken.
Was there grieving? You bet there was. Were there tears? Of course. Was Nancy's absence felt in the midst of all these people she loved and who loved her? Painfully so.
But grief did not carry the day. Or the days when both John and Nancy knew she was dying. Death won a skirmish. But death lost the battle. A long time ago. At a grave that was vacated forever after only three days' occupancy.
The Bible declares the victory this way: "Christ died for our sins...He was buried...He was raised on the third day...Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?...Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:3; 54-56).
I saw the impotence of death and the power of Jesus' victory everywhere I looked during these last couple of days. Just like at my mother's funeral. My father's funeral. Countless funerals of people I have loved. Because they had each taken Jesus up on the gift He bought with His blood when He paid for their sins on the cross - "Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Only someone who's conquered death Himself can give eternal life to others. Someone did. But only one Man. His name is Jesus.
And Jesus was all over the place again this week as loved ones mourned the temporary absence of one who belonged to Him. Because we all knew that death had not won. All it could do was send Nancy Home. The same Home her husband will be promoted to some day. And her daughter, her son, her family. Oh yeah, and my wife and me. Because of Jesus. Only Jesus.
Yes, there was grief. But there was much more hope and celebration. Because every funeral of a Jesus-forgiven child of God is the ultimate declaration of what a Savior He is. This "hope" isn't wishful thinking or sympathy card sentiment. It's the surest of all sure things - because it's anchored to the Man who blew death away when He walked out of His grave.
So, even in "the valley of the shadow of death," "we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure" (Hebrews 6:19). In the deepest, darkest hour, the anchor held. It always will.