Monday, 18 May 2015
Do not let your hearts be troubled
The Gospel reading for today struck me with a certain sense of familiarity. Of course many Bible passages are well known, and this is no exception. But I remembered that I had preached a brief homily on this passage at the funeral of my youngest brother in January of 2010. I won’t read the whole homily here. It is not very long but it was specific to that situation. But I will turn to some of the thoughts I shared on that day with the congregation of family and friends.
Our Lord had just been talking about whether or not the disciples would have the courage to lay down their lives for his sake. And in the context of thinking of giving all for the sake of serving Christ he teaches them that there is a bright future prepared for them all.
It was a sad day when I first came to speak on this passage, and we had the death of my brother much in our thoughts. Indeed his body was present among us in his coffin. But the thought of giving all for the sake of Christ should not be far from any of our hearts and minds. We may not be called to offer ourselves as martyrs, but we are each one of us called to offer our lives entirely to Christ in obedient
service each moment of each day. And this is no less a sacrifice of our lives for his sake. He says to us, no less to those who might become martyrs. ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’.
Death comes to us all, whether expected or not. It is the irresistible end to our human efforts at becoming someoneor something. Indeed it reminds us that in the end everything we seek to accomplish comes to an end and is forgotten, unless it has eternal value and is accomplished in the power of God and in the service of God. Death is a fact of life. It catches us in the middle of things, and reminds us that those things are often not worth the effort we expend on them. Everything is cut short by death, yet if we are serving God according to his will and in his power then in fact we are able to say with Christ, ‘It is finished’, and not regret having achieved so little.
But we should not give way to despair. The passage we have heard read this morning is about how we are to respond to the awful fact of death. Death will surely come to us all. Perhaps it seems to be the negation of life, and the end of everything that matters. If we believe only that, then we have a reason to despair. But those of us who have a Christian faith believe that death is not the end, rather it is a passage to a better life, to a fuller life, indeed to the experience of real life, of which each day we live now is but a shadow.
The passage we read encourages us not to be disturbed by the fact of death. ‘Do not let your heart be troubled’. What should we do then? ‘Trust in God’ we are instructed. Why should we trust in God? Does such faith and trust take away the pain of losing a loved one? Does it make it easier to imagine running out of time to become a better person, a more faithful Christian? Trust in God, Jesus says,
because there are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. Even more than that, Jesus says that he himself will welcome us into his Father’s presence where we will be united with all those whom we have loved.
Death is presently a sad fact of life. But we have faith, not a faith which has no real substance, but a faith which is built on the foundation of many years of experience of God’s care. At my brother’s funeral I reminded the congregation that the Farrington family had been believers in Christ for over sixty years. It is our present experience of God’s care which we have seen and remember from times past which leads us to trust him for an unseen future. We do not believe God has let us down in all that time. We believe he has heard our prayers and intervened in our lives, and so with those real experiences in mind we trust in the words that Jesus spoke, and we believe that he has prepared a place for us where we will find true life in God’s presence.
But we also have hope. Not the sort of hope that we have when we buy a lottery ticket, but the patient expectation of the fulfilment of God’s promise. We have a hope that we will see each other again. Our time on earth passes. We look back with fondness on all of the moments we shared with those we love. But it is not the end, neither for each one of us when our time comes, nor for our relationships with one another. We have faith and hope that we will be reunited.
There is no need for despair. Let us remember those who have passed from death to life, and all the moments we spent together. And let us ask God that he will grant them rest and peace in his presence until we meet again in the place where all sorrowing and sighing have passed away in the light of God’s glory. Let us live our lives in the understanding that this is not all there is, that there is so much more awaiting us, using this brief time on earth to prepare ourselves through faith, and hope, and love, for the life to come, becoming now, by God’s grace, the people that we want to be in eternity.
Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages, Amen.