Tag Archives: mourning

Our Posture Towards Death

The following was a sermon given on Sunday, November 20th, 2016 at Nelson Covenant Church.

Today many within our community are still in shock at the news of the tragic death of Devon Dunkley this week.  Devon’s family is part of our sister church at the Junction, and he was a part of our youth group for many years.   This past Wednesday Blair invited me to share from the Scriptures at our youth group, and I thought it would be important to pass along those thoughts to our entire community this morning.

We have record of an early Christian community in the ancient city of Thessalonica.  These were new believers in Jesus, and after experiencing a series of deaths within their community, they were seeking to understand how they were supposed to process death as believers in Jesus.  Paul addressed their questions in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

What is our posture towards death?  How are we called to live as Christians in the face of death?

The first thing that must be said, is that We MOURN. We MOURN the loss that comes through death. 

“13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

Notice Paul doesn’t say, “You’re Christians—so you shouldn’t mourn!”  He says, “I don’t want you to grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”  Paul wants these early Christians to know that they will grieve and mourn, but their grief and mourning will take on a different shape.

I’ll expand on that in a second, but let’s stay on this first crucial point:  Christians MOURN the loss that comes from death.  Death is a monster, because it takes someone from us who was an image-bearer of God; someone who was valuable and loved, beautiful and good.  That’s why it’s important—critical—to mourn.

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Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4.  In the kingdom of God it’s not a virtue to remain stoic and unfeeling in the presence of significant loss.  We are not more spiritual if we can keep sorrow at bay, nor are we stronger if we manage to keep our grief contained and controlled.

Jesus wept in the face of tragedy.  When his cousin John was beheaded, Jesus mourned.  When Jesus was informed that his close friend Lazarus had died, he wept.

That we can allow the searing pain that comes from losing a loved one find expression through our tears and our crying out to God…reveals we are becoming more like Jesus, not less.

Christians mourn in the face of death.

But there is a second thing that must be said.  In the face of death, We MOCK. We MOCK the powerlessness of death.  Paul continues:

14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

And in 1 Corinthians 15:22–26 Paul declares:

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

 

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I’ve been reading through St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation (written in the 4th century).  In a chapter on the resurrection Athanasius shares how he has witnessed the truth of Jesus’ resurrection transform how the Christians of his day responded in the face of death.  Specifically, he highlights how the resurrection has led to Christians “despising” death (and by “despising” he means mocking/belittling).  Listen to his words:

A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection.

“There is proof of this too; for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Savior’s resurrection from it. Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength. Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?

If you are a Christian, you serve a King who has broken death and trampled it underfoot.  When Jesus was resurrected, he overcame death’s power and signaled the beginning of the end of death’s rule and reign over God’s good creation.

Therefore, those in Christ are no longer held hostage by death’s power.  Death is a defeated foe, so that we now live without fear, knowing that “We are confident…and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8.  Even more astonishing than the hope of life after death, is the hope of life after, life after death.  The Christian’s ultimate hope is that one day Jesus will return and bring full Restoration and Redemption to this broken world.  Then his kingdom will be fully established within the context of a new heavens and new earth, and “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

In light of this great hope, Christians mock death, seeing it for the temporary inconvenience that it is.

And so death causes us to mourn, but it ought never cause us to despair.  Christians must never be frozen by the fear of death, nor overwhelmed by a misunderstanding of its grasp.

Because of what Jesus has accomplished–for you, for me, for Devon–death does not have the final word.  It has been swallowed up in the life and victory of King Jesus; a life and victory that Devon now knows fully, even as he is fully known (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

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Orlando: Mourning With Those Who Mourn

“4 My heart is in anguish within me;
    the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
    horror has overwhelmed me.” Psalm 55:4-5

“What can men do against such reckless hate?” Theoden, Lord of the Rings

Ten minutes before our Sunday service I was informed about the mass shooting in Orlando.  I could scarcely take it in when I heard the news.  It’s been a little over 24 hours now and I’m still trying to wrap my heart around the reality of what has transpired.

Like many churches around the world we took time to pray for the victims and their families, praying that the church would rise up and be a redemptive expression of Jesus’ love and healing in the midst of this tragedy.  It was so powerful to hear heartfelt prayers of mourning and compassion offered on behalf of the victims in Orlando.

It likely comes as no shock to anyone to admit that the church and the LGBT community have had a strained and hurtful history.   Being part of an evangelical Christian denomination, many might presume the relational rift to be even deeper.  After all, aren’t evangelical Christians the ones who hate gays?  Aren’t they the poster children for homophobia?

Despite what some (many?) believe, evangelical Christians genuinely love their LGBT neighbours and care about their well-being. Admittedly, this assertion is a pretty big generalization, but it’s particularly true of the Christian tribe I belong to.   We have LGBT friends, co-workers, and family members.  They join us to worship God on Sundays.  They delve deeper into discipleship to Jesus in our small groups and bible studies.  We break bread together around our tables.  Yes, when trust and candor are high we find ourselves in disagreement at some pivotal theological crossroads.  But even in these emotionally charged conversations we’ve seen how grace, vulnerability, and a willingness to really listen (on both sides) leads to a greater appreciation for the image of God in the other.  Love is built and deepened through these conversations.

So when those whom we love are the target of terrorism, we are sorrow-full.  And when those whom we love are specifically targeted because of their sexual identity, we are heartbroken.  The entire situation is unfair, unjust, inhuman, and sinful.  These were people who were loved by many, none more than God himself.  As details about the victims become available, let’s remember that each name and face represents families torn apart, dreams brought to nothing, hearts broken, bodies maimed, and life extinguished through a vile act of hatred.

“What can men do against such reckless hate?”

I believe that through God’s love and grace, even the deepest suffering can be redeemed.  But the first step into a redemptive future is genuine mourning.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” Jesus promised in Matthew 5:4.   Christians are called to “mourn with those who mourn” in Romans 12:15.  Mourning is the process of moving into grief and loss honestly and with utter vulnerability before God.  From that posture, God can do some of his most important work in our lives.  And from that posture God can redeem situations that seem to be nothing more than a testimony to the power of evil.

How do we respond to the Orlando massacre?  Let’s begin by mourning, and see where that leads us.  More importantly, let’s see how that forms us.

This week I invite you to join me as I mourn from a distance even while the wake of the suffering in Orlando feels close to home.  I invite you to join me in praying for God’s kingdom to come and his will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  I invite you to join me in praying for his shalom to overwhelm the chaos.

May the healing that only Jesus can provide touch the lives of everyone impacted by this brutal act.

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