Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Saints -- Anonymous and Famous. . .

This has been a very long year.  Some 22 funerals in the past year or year and a half have been more than taxing upon me.  This is not because of the extra time spent planning funerals or writing sermons.  It is because the vast majority of those funerals were of people who had become my friends and family after being a pastor here for more than 31 years.  I knew them and know them and to address them is to speak in love of family members whom I have addressed in sermons, taught in Bible study, fed and nourished at the Lord's table.  We are the baptized, the fellowship of believers who are the family of God and it shows most profoundly at the funeral.

To be sure, few of the people I have buried were or are famous.  They were not the subject of news articles or reports but their memories lived on through their children, grandchildren, and friends -- like me.  But they were known to the Lord.  In every funeral we repeat this familiar phrase from the Psalmist:  Precious in the Lord's sight is the death of His saints.  And it is true.  It is precious to the Lord because they are not strangers to Him but the faces and lives that would move Him to send forth His Son into the womb of the Virgin and offer Himself in their place and mine upon the altar of the cross.  

It is more at the funeral than at any other place where the true nature and profound character of our fellowship as the people of God is revealed and counted upon.  What other purpose is there when we gather except to remember with thanksgiving those whom the Lord has loved through death to everlasting life?  I know their names and their life stories and how the Lord knew them in the waters of their baptism and claimed them as His own sons and daughters in the living waters that bestow new and everlasting birth.  But is the Lord's knowing that makes all the difference.  Without Him we would be gathered only to foster a memory already fading but because of Him we gather to rejoice in the God who knows our names, knows our lives, loves us still, and raises us from the anonymity of death to the fame of life.

Funerals and cemeteries make no sense unless you have confidence that those whom we plant into the ground are raised up by God to new and everlasting lives.  Otherwise it is mere sentiment at work -- a hopeless end.  But in Christ it is so much more -- an endless hope!  I read off the names on All Saints Sunday -- those who have died since the previous All Saints celebration.  They are names that mean a great deal to me and a great deal to some within the congregation but they mean everything to the God who chose death so they might live.  What an amazing day!

So as you go to Church on All Saints (the actual day or the Sunday after), come with a profound sense of appreciation for the mystery of God who has all things in His hand and still has room for you and me and every other anonymous saint the earth soon forgets.  And while you are in wonder over the God who can recall our names and knows our lives, imagine this.  He gives us not simply what we earn or have deserved but riches beyond measure in a life that death cannot steal and sin cannot taint.  So powerful is the blood of Christ that we are cleansed from all our sin once and for all and for all eternity.




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