Funeral of Jack Conrad

In Memoriam + Jack Conrad +
1 Corinthians 15:51-57
March 11, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep as Jack now sleeps, but all of us, those who sleep along with those who are awake, we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. The trumpet will sound. The dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall all be changed. Those who have perished, whose mortal bodies have gone to rest in the earth will be raised. Their bodies and souls will come back together again. Both their bodies and their souls will be perfected: imperishable and immortal. Those who are still living at that time will also be changed in their bodies and souls, perfected, imperishable and immortal. Then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Then shall come to pass the saying, but not quite yet. Now the sting of death is sin. From it comes our sadness and loss. The power of sin is the law. It accuses and exposes us. It hounds and condemns us. We have not been the men and women we were meant to be. We’ve not been the fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, or daughters, and certainly not the husbands and wives that we should have been. We have hurt ourselves. We have hurt those we love. We’ve been hurt by others, on accident, on purpose, with great sorrow and with great nonchalance, by those who loved us and by those who didn’t care, but always we’ve hurt and have been hurt. That is the sting of death. Living with sinners in this living death, no matter how well intentioned they are, is never easy.

We like to pretend as though we’re tough, seasoned warriors. We don’t flinch in the face of death. We know life is hard. We expect it and are proud of our ability to endure it and think that we might even thrive. In our arrogance we hold both the naive and idealists in derision. “Life isn’t fair,” we say, as though that were some bit of wisdom. But it isn’t. It isn’t wise or clever at all. It is true in a sense, but it is mostly wrong. The point ought to be that life should be fair. Justice shouldn’t be a privilege. It should be a right. Kindness shouldn’t be a surprise. It should be expected. Dogs shouldn’t bite. Cats shouldn’t scratch. And men shouldn’t lie. But they do. We do. The saying that is written has not yet come to pass: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Death is still haunting us. It is not, however, part of life. The living shouldn’t die. It is not circle. It is a line. It shouldn’t end. It always hurts. It is the sting of the Law. If we did not sin, we would not die nor would our lives be full of regret. But they are and we do. We die because we sin. We suffer regret because we know our sins have done damage and caused hurt.

Jack never made any great confession to me in this regard, but it was clear that he understood that he was a sinner. I don’t mean the generic dismissal that “everybody makes mistakes” and “nobody is perfect.” Jack knew more than that. He knew that he had done more than make mistakes. At times, he had let people down. He had failed to be what he was supposed to be. He grieved for that and for the pain that he had caused. But he also hoped for forgiveness. After he retired, as long as he was able-bodied, he came to the Lord’s Supper twice a week. He wanted grace, cleansing from Christ. This made him a very accepting person. He was a sinner who lived by grace and he extended grace to others. Whatever faults you might have found in him, being stuck up wasn’t one of them. I don’t mean to suggest that he was just the sweet old man, he wasn’t. He had more intelligence than that. But he was kind. He be-friended people. He was quite popular in that nursing home. I think that is because he wasn’t judgmental. And I think he wasn’t judgmental because he knew that he was the beneficiary of Divine grace. He tried, albeit imperfectly, to live that out and to extend it to others, to forgive and accept as he had been forgiven and accepted.

I tell a mystery: God is gracious and merciful. He does not punish us for our sins as we deserve. He allows us to love one another, to forgive one another, to serve one another. It is a great privilege and joy to love and be loved even though we are still imperfect at it.

Here is the irony of your current sorrow: it is the dark-side of love. If we did not love, we would not mourn. We mourn because we love. We do not mourn for the thousands of unknown persons who died yesterday all over the world. It is not because we are callous or realistic. It is because we do not have the energy and we did not love them. But Jack has died, and whether we want to or not, even if we are rightly convinced that it was a blessing that he didn’t suffer more, we mourn. It comes upon us unbidden, sorrow at the loss, regret for the past, hurt that might have been boiling and festering for years. Why? Because we loved an imperfect man imperfectly and we know that whatever imperfections he may have had, whatever failures or regrets, he loved us back.  Surprisingly then, your sorrow is something to give thanks for. That is what the poet meant when he said that it was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

That is the good side of mourning. It is not fun or easy. It stings. But not everything good is pleasant. It is good because it comes from love. God has given us the capacity to love and to be loved. This is part of His mercy. If life should be fair, then we should pay for our sins and not enjoy anything good in this life, and no one should love us, even imperfectly. God actually does love us perfectly. He holds nothing back. He has sent His Son to die for us, to suffer all that should have been done to us. He has been sacrificed in love as our Substitute. He forgives and accepts us, reconciles us to Himself and bestows the peace that passes all understanding. And in that great act, He provides not just for the hereafter but He also provides, perfectly provides, imperfect persons for imperfect persons like us. He does this not for the sake of justice, but for mercy. He does this because it was not good for man to be alone, because He sees that it is good for us who have been forgiven, been loved, been justified, by Him, to likewise forgive, to mourn, to love, to weep, to pray, to grow, to live and to die in families.

God has given us people to love and to forgive, as we have been loved and been forgiven, we must then suffer, we must mourn. To say it stings is an understatement of the worst sort. It hurts deeply and for years. But it is not the end. Behold, I tell you another mystery: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” Jesus Christ, killed for our transgressions, lives. He gives us the victory that swallows death and removes its pain. He promises to bring us also out of the grave. In that resurrection He promises perfection, a cleansing and healing.

Jack’s soul is in a better place. That is not just a cliché. He is in Abraham’s bosom, free of this dying body, at peace and at rest. He is free of sorrow and regret, free of sin and shame, free of pain. But he has not yet come to the best place, to his end and reward. That will come on the last day. The Holy Spirit will raise him and all the dead and give eternal life to him and all who believe- in Christ. Then the saying that is written will come to pass, death will be swallowed up in victory and there will be a great reunion.

Jack won’t then be some faceless saint, indistinguishable from all the rest. He will be himself, more himself than he ever was on earth, and everything that you loved in and about him will be magnified and nothing that interfered will be left. The arms that held you will hold you again. The laugh will be his, no one else’s, purer and more clear than ever before, the smile will be his, the stories will still flow but now they will flow with the knowledge of how God was working all things together for good, how He was bring Jack and us to the fullness of His promise, and how everything was done for our sake in mercy. For this perishable will put on the imperishable and this mortal will put on immortality and the saying that is written will come to pass: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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