(Editors Note): The following is the text from the sermon I preached Monday, Feb. 11th for the funeral of my grandmother. The passage I read can be found here.
Let me first of all thank you all for coming out this afternoon. I am pleased and thankful for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the family about this wonderful woman whose life we are celebrating today. I hope that Rachel would be pleased and proud to have her favorite grandson up here speaking today. Almost every time I spoke, saw, or visited her she would look at, her eyes would twinkle, and she would say, “Do you remember the time you was riding with me and your grandpa in the car, and you told me about them boys. You looked at me and you said, ‘them boys don’t know ‘bout Jesus, but I can tell them Grandma, I can tell them about Jesus.’” I have spent some 30 years trying to live up to that story. Every time I stand up in front of a group of people to speak, I try to remember that boy who was not afraid to them boys about Jesus, and I remember the Grandma who encouraged her boy to go and do what he had to do.
The relationship between Me and Grandma Rachel will forever be crystallized by that one shining moment. She can never be anything more than Grandma, but that was not all that she was. She was first the daughter of ____________ and ______________. She was the cousin of ______________________. She was the ___________________. Later she would become the wife of Robert, and later still the mother of Bobby. And even later still she would become the person I would know, the grandmother of Susie, and Matt, and even later John. She was the friend of everyone she met. She was the type of neighbor that you dreamed about as you planned your move. I wish that I could take each of you back in time to see her in her element in the Woodbrook Apartment Complex giving candy to all the children in a 10 mile radius. There in Woodbrook I learned to share her as Grandma, cause she was the Grandma of everyone in her complex, and in her church.
As many of you know in the last year I made a risky move to a town I had never heard of, in a region of the country in which I had never lived, to pursue a dream that seemed unaccomplishable. Yet I always knew that regardless of what happened, Grandma Rachel would always be in my corner. Whenever I would call or come back, she was there waiting, and as I excused myself off the phone, out of place I would see her eyes mist up, and we would go there our little ritual. I would say, “I love you, and I will miss you,” and with that twinkle in her eye she would say, “Well, I’ll miss you the mostest.” For once I can truly say that this time I will miss her the mostest. I will miss the chili, and the cakes. I will miss the card games, and the cards. But most of all I will miss the fiery passion with which she embraced her life, her friends, and her family.
On such a day as this loss and suffering seem like the only thing that can ever exist. Yet I take hope in the words of Paul to the Church of Thessalonians:
“13 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. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.[b]
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
God does not expect as to walk into this facility today, and act as if the passing of our loved one does not mean anything to us. God does not expect to act as if we had only good pleasant feelings about this turn of events. Do not be so callous to think that death is not a act of misery, sadness, and evil. Death was never part of the plan. Death was never part of the life and community in which God originally created. But because of our sinfulness, because of our thoughtlessness, because of our inability to live the lives we were meant to live. Death is now knocking at each of our doors. And so I find great comfort in that Paul tells us simply, “do not grieve like those without hope.”
But where can we find hope in the midst of our sorrow? Where can we find joy in the midst of this tragedy? For many people there is no hope. This life is all that there is. After this there is nothing for us. We are only a fading memory in the minds of other people doomed to die and be forgotten themselves. But this is not our lot. This is not our place. For those of us who call themselves Christians, we know that death is simply the beginning. Sure it is the end of our existence in this world, but it is also our promotion into the next. It is our promotion from what the English writers C.S. Lewis called the shadowlands to the world as it was meant to be. For me one of the best illustrations of what that world might be is found in the writings of an author known as Randy Alcorn. In one of his novels he follows Li Quan, a Chinese fisherman, sometimes carpenter, and sometimes preacher from this world to the next. Listen to his description of what the world might be like.
Safely Home Excerpt
One of my heroes has said that we Christians live a life of ecstatic sadness. There is the great joy that comes with being a part of the Kingdom of God. There is the great joy as He brings all manner of good things into our lives: loving families, faithful spouses, and considerate friends. Yet there is often great sadness as we face the pain and suffering involved in life on planet earth. Hurricanes and snowstorms strike without warning. Loved ones are lost at the seeming whim of blind fate. Illness and fatigue loom at the edges.
But in all of this there is hope. We as Christians know and believe that God himself came down to earth, walked amongst us, and was himself killed by the forces of our planet. Yet we also know that our God was raised on the third day, and that we has promised to raise us up as well. We know that in the end He will reign victoriously over the powers of sin, death, and the devil. And it is for that reason that on this day, at this time we can truly say that we stand here today to celebrate the life of Rachel Rickman, beloved wife, mother, friend and neighbor. But we are not the first such group to have done so.
On Thursday afternoon February 6th, news of just such a party began to ring out. Members of the family began to gather first in small numbers, but steadily the crowd grew larger and larger. Anticipation began to build, and the excitement began to grow. The crowd moved on to congregate around the gate where their loved one would soon be entering. Around 11:45 pm Robert stepped out of the gathering crowd and assumed his position there at the head of the crowd so he would be the first to be seen as well as the first to see the arrival. As the clock approached midnight, the son of a carpenter and this old carpenter and they waited together in breathless anticipation. Just after midnight a band of winged musicians took up their instruments, and began to play their joyful tunes composed to this son of a carpenter, songs expressing joy and admiration. At 12:45 Central Standard Time the guest of honor arrived in full company of a band of fierce protectors, a fiery redhead at long last united with the 2 men whom had changed her life. This fiery redhead collapsed weeping tears of joy, first into the arms of her savior, and at long last into the arms of her beloved Robert. Robert and Rachel reunited in the presence of their Lord and Savior, it is this image and this thought that fills the sadness of this Monday afternoon with a ecstatic joy. For I know that one day it will be my turn to enter those gates, and be reunited with those two lovebirds. But until then it is I who will miss them the mostest. We love you Grandma, see you soon.