The loss of loved ones can be especially hard to bear when the holidays arrive. Intense memories of special times together make it hard to feel joyful. For All Saints Day this year our congregation commemorated the life and witness of the members of our congregation that the Lord had called home.
We started with the bad news. The majority of our departed members spent the last months or years of their lives in the all-too-common memory care units of local nursing homes. This trend does not seem to be improving. Just as everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer, everyone now also knows one or more people who have struggled with memory loss.
As Christians, we take comfort in the fact that even if we forget who we are, the Lord never forgets us: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16, ESV)
I’ve witnessed those struggling with memory loss have no problem remembering prayers and hymns that they have committed deep into their minds through memorization.
Two of our deceased members died in the most blessed way possible. They were literally prayed into heaven. I was visiting them and it was clear that the end was near. Some of their loved ones were in the room and we were talking and I offered to pray. These two saints were breathing when we started praying but by the time I ended the prayer they had stopped breathing. Nurses came and confirmed what we suspected, the Lord had taken them home. What a blessed way to go!
One of the members we lost endured much suffering but remained faithful to the Lord. So often when bad things happen and then happen again and again and again, people lose faith. This member endured a lengthy series of chronic illnesses but never lost her faith.
Another of our faithful departed members was one who had a strong faith but was willing to admit she was scared. I would get a call from her family that she was having a bad day and was fearful so I would go and visit her. We would pray and celebrate the Lord’s Supper and it would comfort her.
Her willingness to express her fears remind us that we don’t have to put up a brave front and pretend we are not scared when death draws near. Death is a scary thing. But the Lord is with us: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, KJV)
The goal of one of our departed members was to be a farmer his entire life. But it did not work out that way. He had to sell his farm and take a job in town. As we met to make arrangements for his funeral, his family shared with me that he still always thought of himself as a farmer.
So at his funeral we talked about a person’s identity, how many times people think of themselves differently from their physical reality, a topic that has received a lot of attention in recent years.
Christians are way ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to having an identity that is distinct from our physical reality. Physically, we are still struggling sinners but in Christ we have we have a whole new identity:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV) “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)
Jesus even speaks of our new identity in farming terms: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25, ESV)
One of our departed members never wanted to be alone. When she was at home she loved to get together with friends every single day. When she wound up in a memory care unit she was never in her room. So according to the glimpse of heaven we are given in Revelation she must really be enjoying herself there:
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10, ESV)
The funeral of one of our departed took place on the day set aside in the church calendar to honor the angels. Contrary to popular belief, we do not become angels when we die, but, in many ways, this departed member was like an angel.
She put God first in everything, just as the angels do. She also loved children, as angels do. And when we die, God sends his angels to carry us home.
Two of the members who were taken from us left behind written statements of faith. I try to do my best in honoring the lives of believers at their funerals but there is nothing like reading a person’s own statement of faith at their funeral.
So that is a quick glimpse into the lives of the faithful departed whose faith the members of our church were privileged to share on this earth before the Lord took them home. I know their families will be missing them greatly during the holidays this year. I know that in God’s time these families will be reunited with their loved ones in heaven.