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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

They Are Gone, But Something Remains – A Graveside Committal Sermon

I am performing (Performing? Performing isn't the right verb, but the only other ones I can think of: "conducting," "leading,"..."officiating" are even worse...) a graveside committal service this morning.  G. died last week.  The ashes of he and and his wife, V. (who died a few years ago) are being interred together.

Funerals are for the living - and for that reason, the final song quoted in this sermon was one of the family's choosing. 


We are here this morning because they are gone, G. and V.  

While alive they shared our lives, and we theirs.  We shared their joys and triumphs.  We suffered their losses and miseries.  The highs and the lows.  The pains. The celebrations.  And all the daily routines and the extraordinary wonders that compose this life. We shared these together.

But they are gone from us.  Gone from this life.  And yet something of them remains, something more than their ashes which we commit to the elements, today. We have the memories of them formed within us, and the shape they gave to our lives. These things outlast our fragile bodies.  Call it spirit, call it soul; though the body is temporary, something remains.  And it is that something that we honor today. 

We are here because they have gone. In this life we will hear their voices no more.  We will never take their hand or clap their shoulder.  No more shared laughter over jokes and games.  No more shared tears for grief and wounds. For G. and for V. these things are past.  Yet something remains.  The past is gone, just as G. and V. are gone from us.  But something remains.  The future is wide, wider than we can know.

Jesus of Nazareth, our Savior and Lord, on the occasion of the death of his friend, Lazarus, said “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”[i]   There is life after this life, and in this we take great comfort.

Death is not the end.  This mortal life is not all there is for us.  In his famous play, Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote the lines, “all that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.”[ii]  All that lives must die.  Everything and everyone passes through this brief life and then is gone.  Yet, we insist that something remains.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”[iii] Faith remains, even when our friends and loved ones have passed, Faith remains.  Hope too, remains even after this flesh is gone.  And love.  The greatest of these, Love, remains.  Our love for G. and for V. does not cease when we commit their ashes to the elements.  Love remains. 

And it is God’s great love for us that gives us ground for our faith and our hope and our love.  It is his great love that nullifies the power and finality of death.  He breaks the power of cancelled sin and sets the prisoners free.[iv] It is his love that has swallowed up death in victory and gives us immortality,[v]  so that we might remain forever with him.

We are here because they are gone.  And their absence leaves us with grief and sorrow.  But we take comfort in what remains.  We have our faith that God is good.  We have our hope, the blessed hope of eternal life with God the Father.  And we have our love, our love for each other and our love for G. and V., despite their absence.  Our memories of them will keep that love alive within us, and in however many days and weeks and months and years we have left here ourselves, we will share those memories with others.   And in doing so we will share that love with others. Love not only remains but Love grows.

We may gather around the grave to grieve today for what we have lost, but we take comfort in all that remains.  We say farewell to G. and to V.  We entrust them to God’s great love, and place ourselves within that same love for peace and comfort in the days ahead.

So, go rest high on that mountain.
[G. and V.] your work on earth is done.
Go to heaven a shoutin’
love for the Father and the Son.[vi]


[i] John 11:25 – 26 
[ii] Hamlet – Act 1 Scene 2
[iii] I Corinthians 13: 12 - 13
[iv] O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing – Charles Wesley
[v] I Corinthians 15: 54
[vi]Go, Rest High on that Mountain – Vince Gill

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