Billy Graham once said: “When we grieve over someone who has died in Christ, we are sorrowing not for them but for ourselves. Our grief isn’t a sign of a weak faith, but of a great love.” There is a promise for those who die in Christ that to be absent from the earthly body is to be present with the Lord. A Christian’s funeral service is a time of celebration because those who die in Christ are no longer bound by sin’s power, sin’s penalty or sin’s presence. Death brings a child of God into God’s presence where they can see Him face to face.
I learned many years ago that the grief we experience when a Christian family member or friend dies is not about the past but the unlived tomorrows. Grief is picking up the phone to call but the person is no longer there. Grief is the next birthday, anniversary or holiday where there is an empty seat at the table. Grief is thinking about the plans we made together but are still unfulfilled. Grief is not an event or even a season; instead, grief of a lifelong journey. A person never gets past or over grief; instead, by God’s grace, we get through grief one day at a time.
Recently I conducted a funeral service for a member of my own family. She lived a hard life in her early years, but she found strength and hope in her relationship with God made possible by Jesus. She loved and served her family, church and community for most of her 94 years. She never made the national headlines but she lived a Christ-like example before five generations of family. As I shared with our family, there was complete confidence that she is at rest in heaven. Because I believe that the Bible is God’s word, I accept it as authoritative and by faith believe its promises. When the church in Thessalonica asked Paul what was happening to the Christian friends and family when they died he responded, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14) Christians can celebrate even as we grieve at the physical death of our family and friends because we know that death and the grave were defeated by Jesus.
Today I think back to another funeral that I conducted recently. There was no evidence that the person who died ever trusted in Jesus as their Savior. As I shared truth from Scripture I could give the family no absolute assurance that their loved one was experiencing life and not eternal death, damnation and destruction. Their family member had died apart from Christ. Apart from Christ there is no peace in life and no hope in death.
If your funeral service were to take place today, would your family celebrate in hope or collapse in gut-wrenching mourning? We read in 1 John 5:11-13, “and this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” There is only one way to have peace in life and hope in death, being reconciled to God through Jesus.