I aim to share all of my public talks on this blog but this is a bit different. I was asked to speak at my friend Chris' thanksgiving service recently and with the family's permission I'm sharing what I said here. This isn't a eulogy but a talk about why Chris loved Jesus and why Chris had hope and peace in the face of death. I am hoping that in sharing this it gives an explanation for why I also have hope that one day I will see my friend again. If it raises questions for you that you'd like to discuss with me, please do get in touch. You can either watch what I said or read it below.
Over the past decade I've been incredibly grateful to have become Chris and Diana’s friend and it is a privilege to be asked to speak this afternoon as a friend but also as a leader of the church he and Diana attended.
In the last few years, Chris spent a decent amount of time on trains going to and from Cornwall and it wasn’t rare to have Chris come up to me on a Sunday after a train journey to talk about someone he’d talked to about Jesus. He and Diana have asked me to say a little bit about why Jesus was important to him and why Jesus gave him hope and peace in the face of death.
This afternoon we reflect on Chris’ life and we celebrate the impact he has had on our own lives. We also grieve as we will miss him. We also grieve because there is something about death that is desperately sad, the suffering that often accompanies death can make us angry, and the idea that an all-loving God might not be doing anything about us might, for some of us, add to that frustration if not outright disbelief.
The Christian hope though, is that God has done something about death, is continuing to do something about death and one day will finish off death and its sting once and for all. I hope that in the next few minutes this will bring clarity to that story. For those of us that are already part of this story, I hope this encourages you and reminds you of the hope you have. For those of you who may not be so convinced by the story, I hope it helps show why Chris thought it important and would like to invite you to consider if you’d like to be a part of the story by beginning to follow Jesus yourselves.
Death turns up very early on in the story of the bible as an intruder into God’s good world. Humanity was meant to live with the God who gives life and be in relationship with him but we continually break the relationship with God and try to have life on our own terms. Breaking away from the giver and sustainer of life can only lead to death.
So as Christians, we grieve when people die, because death is an enemy of God’s good world and has taken our friend Chris. But that isn’t the end of the story.
The Apostle Paul also said that we as Christians should not grieve as though we do not have hope.
At the end of the story of the garden of Eden where death entered the world there is a promise. One day a human would be so closely in relationship with God that he would crush death and evil but in so doing, he would be wounded by it.
That promised person was Jesus and he interacted with death several times through his time on the earth.
Jesus knew what it meant to lose a close friend to death. Jesus was away from his friend, Lazarus at the time of his death and as he approaches Lazarus’ grave and sees his friends’ family grieving, he joins in with them and weeps with them. You may know the story; it is an amazing story where soon after weeping, Jesus calls into the grave for Lazarus to come out and Lazarus does so, Lazarus lives.
Even though Jesus knew that Lazarus would live for a time again, he was still filled with sorrow and shared in the grief of those who had lost their friend. Death is an intruder and something we should grieve.
In the lead up to Jesus’ own death, he went to a quiet place to pray. He knew he was going to face a painful execution and he knew he was going to die. He also knew that his mission was to defeat death by coming out of the grave in 3 days time. And yet, as he prayed, he was filled with so much sadness and so much stress that he sweated blood. Again, through this story we see that death is an intruder and something that grieved Jesus as he wrestled with. Jesus gave us a prayer that you might recognise,
“Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – you probably recognise it.
In the garden of Gethsemane, before his execution, Jesus showed how this prayer helps us in times of sadness and stress, and even in the face of death. He prays, “My father…your will be done”. There may not be answers for why we suffer, why we might face death, but ultimately but we can surrender into God's hands the suffering and death we might face.
Jesus was arrested in the garden, put on trial and was executed on a cross between two thieves. One of the thieves said to Jesus after acknowledging that Jesus was innocent, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus’ response was, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise”.
While we grieve the death of our friend and we see that even Jesus, the one who came to defeat death, was grieved by it, we have hope that Chris is today with Jesus in paradise.
Jesus did die but after 3 days God raised him from the dead. The earliest Christians realised that this was something only someone who was perfect and in right relationship with God could do. They also knew that this was incredibly special and they went around telling as many people as they could about it. What does Jesus’ resurrection mean for us?
Well it means that God came down. God entered into our world, took on death and defeated it. It means God knows pain and suffering and walks with us through it. It means that through Jesus’ death and resurrection we can go through death knowing that life is on the other side.
I was able to share with Chris one of my favourite chapters in the bible before he died. Revelation 21 teaches that the earth will one day be restored to how it was meant to be, without death and without evil and that heaven comes down to earth and God will live with his people. It promises that in this restored world,
God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
While Chris, right now is in paradise, one day, Chris will be resurrected into this glorious new creation and we can have the hope of being there with him because of what Jesus did on our behalf, breaking the power of death and offering us life. The offer of life is there for us, but we must take hold of it as the only other option of breaking away from the giver of life is a final death, separated from God’s restored world.
This is what we call the gospel, which means good news, it is the hope of new life beyond death where everything is made new. Chris shared this with people he met on the train… it would be remiss of me to not share it with you today on his behalf.
A friend of ours has died and this hurts and pains us to experience. But there was something about our friend Chris that made this world a better place, his humour, his generosity, his love to help others before thinking of himself. It is in his love for others, no matter who you were, he’d look out for you and try to help to the best of his ability, that displayed what we Christians call the Kingdom of Heaven – that loving God and those around you brings about a bit of heaven on earth.
But Chris wasn’t perfect, none of us are - we have a tendency to also break relationships and hurt others, even inadvertently. Jesus brought life by taking on death and has offered us the promise that when we believe in him, despite our mistakes and our failures, that there is grace and forgiveness to be found - it will take away our shame and remove all our guilt and bring life to the full. As we follow Jesus, we are a part of his new kingdom that will bring life, love and light to even these darkest moments including when we mourn our friends.
I am sure that Chris would want to ask you, do you know Jesus? I hope that this afternoon you might consider and find hope in the story that Chris prized so much and gave him hope and peace as he faced the intruder we call death. We live in hope that we will see Chris resurrected and restored, with a new body and who knows, even in new creation his sense of humour might be perfected as well.
Diana and family, thank you for asking me to speak, it is a privilege and I pray that as you mourn, you know the peace of God that surpasses all understanding and are able to look forward to the day where we will see Chris again.
Please allow me to pray as I finish.
Father, we come into your presence to remember Chris
Thank you for your comfort, that we can know that nothing can separate us from your love and that you support us in our sorrow.
We are sure that the souls of the righteous are with you and that nothing can harm them and Chris is at peace with you.
Give us your strength to rejoice that you have taken Chris to be with you where he has all he needs.
Lord, we look forward to the day where we will find life and peace and perfect joy with him in your presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord.