Monday, May 12, 2014

Two Funeral Sermons?

Does any other preacher out there have a hard time hearing John 14 without thinking of a funeral? That might be true for parishioners, too. We do 10-12 funerals a year in our parish, and I’d guess that nearly half of them have John 14:1-6 as the gospel lesson. Well, this Sunday’s gospel isJohn 14:1-14, and I’ll have the chance to preach on it twice. We’ve got a funeral scheduled for Wednesday, and the family has picked the same gospel lesson—I presume with no regard for the overlap. Will I be able to separate the two? Should I?

Now that we’re on to the second half of Easter, the lessons shift from “Oh my! It’s the risen Jesus!” to “Oh no! What are we going to do when Jesus leaves?” That’s what brings us to John 14. It’s actually Jesus speaking to his disciples before his death, but the sentiment is the same: “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Jesus assures us that we have a place with him in the father’s house. And that’s good news, since he’s not around anymore to convince us of that. And this week, because I’ll be preaching this bit of good news twice, I find myself wondering whether the immediacy that comes with the death of a loved-one adds focus to this passage in a way that carries over to Sunday morning. In other words, is the sermon really any different?

As Holy Week moves to Easter and toward Ascension Day and Pentecost, we’re on a theological roller of sorts. Jesus rides in to Jerusalem triumphantly, but then he is arrested and killed. He dies a terrible defeating death on the cross, but then God raises him from the dead, defeating death itself. Then Jesus appears to his disciples, giving them new confidence before vanishing from their sight, showing them that he’s in a different state now and cannot be held on to. Soon, these joyful resurrection appearances will end, and Jesus will ascend into heaven, leaving the world momentarily comfortless, but then the Holy Spirit comes and shows God’s abiding presence in the world. We’re in the middle of that up and down and up and down cycle, and I think there’s a similarity with caring for a family member until and beyond the point of death.

We have good days and bad days. Things get tough and then they become peaceful. We share joyful memories and also cry tears of grief. Ultimately, we find ourselves standing on a threshold, having escorted one we love all the way to the end of life, but then we have to let go. We can journey no further. We trust that in Jesus Christ the future is open—that more lies ahead—but we can’t see it and can’t know it yet. We say farewell to our father, our mother, our spouse the same way that the disciples say farewell to Jesus—with hope and trust and faith and clinging to his every word. Yes, there is something waiting for us. We know that because of what Jesus did and said. And we know it most powerfully in those moments of moving from this life to the next.

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