Thursday, May 24, 2007

He's Gone

Well, he died on Monday morning at around 12:20 a.m. at the age of 54. This funeral has really got me down. When I became a pastor I was terrified of doing funerals. I didn't know if I'd be up to doing this, didn't know if I could hold it together when so many around me are falling apart. Over the last few years I've gotten almost mechanical about it which isn't good but I've had so many funerals (average 9 a year) that I've gotten used to doing them. They don't frighten me any more. I don't know why this one is different. It's not like I knew him really well. Maybe it's because he's so young. He's only 14 years older than me. His funeral is in an hour. Here's the sermon I'll be preaching.

Funeral for EG
May 24, 2007
Psalm 23
Thomas Arth

E died on Monday.
On the one hand you can almost say it was about time
since he had to endure so much suffering
during the last part of his life.
But really, he was too young to die.
He didn't get to be an old man
because cancer showed its ugly head
and cut his life short.
It wasn't easy to watch what he had to go through,
especially these last few days.
The man who lay there helpless,
really just waiting for the end,
was not the man you all had come to know during his life.
For E, his death is a release from a time of declining health,
a release from his suffering.
For you, his family and friends,
his death is a loss of someone you loved,
someone who was important to you,
someone who will be missed.

Early last week when I visited E in the hospital
he wanted to talk about the funeral service.
All he said was "nothing fancy."
I said that the funeral services I lead are fairly simple:
some prayers, some scripture readings, a short sermon.
I asked if there were any readings or hymns
that he'd like us to use.
A asked "Amazing Grace?"
He shook his head.
"Old Rugged Cross?"
He didn't reply.
I think he smiled.
I asked, "Enter Sandman?"
Now I'll be honest,
that's the only Metallica song I actually know the title of.
And I had to think that a visit from the sandman
to bring E a peaceful rest
was what he really needed.

But later I got to thinking about some of the words in that song.
A kind of chorus in that song says
"Exit light. Enter night."
That's what we think of when we imagine a quiet and restful sleep.
But that's not what we think of, as Christians,
when we describe death.
A couple of Sundays ago in church we heard a reading from Revelation
that talked about the New Jerusalem,
an image of what it means to live with God.
It said, "the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God is its light,
and its lamp is the Lamb...
there will be no more night;
they need no light of lamp or sun,
for the Lord God will be their light,
and they will reign forever and ever."
You see, death is not an "off to nevernever land"
it's a forever and ever land with God.
The way it all works out is a mystery to us
but we trust in the promises of God
made to us in baptism
that God is always with us.

We can, and should, be thankful for the life that E lived,
for the time we did have with him,
but that won't make his death easy
for those who will now miss him.
You will have memories of E that you will cherish.
Over the days, weeks, months, and years to come
you will remember what you had with Evan.
Some of that remembering will make you sad.
That's normal.
That's right.
We mourn those we lose.
But we can also celebrate
the rest and peace that he now has in the Lord.
You might not feel like celebrating for a while.
Various emotions might be racing through you.
Along with sadness, there might be anger.
It's hard to understand
why you had to watch E suffer the way he did,
why he had to die at a relatively young age.
This is a time of darkness.
Even in the bright sunshine
it can feel like darkness and night in our hearts.
That's what the darkest valley,
the valley of the shadow of death,
a ravine as dark as death is about in Psalm 23.
Those kinds of times are part of every life in one way or another,
at one time or another.
This is a time like that.

It may not look like it now but there is hope.
The Psalm says "I shall fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff they comfort me."
We're not alone.
In the times of darkness God is with us.
God accompanies us through the long night of grief
and, eventually, into the sunshine of a brighter day.
God was with E step by step
through the dark night of his suffering
and is with him now in the light of eternal life.
E's life here on earth is over
but he knows that death is not the end.
Comfort in our dark valley times comes from our faith in Christ.
It's going to be hard for some time.
E's suffering is over.
He is in God's hands.
Like you said in your tribute to E and his cars,
"God's got a great mechanic and body man."
E is in God's hands and so are all of us.
When we remember E's life
it will bring both joy and pain.
But we can live in hope in Jesus Christ,
that we who die in a death like his
will also live in a resurrection like his.
We anticipate that great and holy day
in the sure trust and hope that we have in God.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

If you're upset over a parishioner's death, you know you're doing your job. We are called to get into peoples' lives, and then into their deaths.