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November 7, 2021 – All Saints Sunday
Scripture: Revelation 21:1-6
When a loved one dies, what’s the good news? When a son or daughter dies, what’s the good news? Is there even good news at all?
Here’s a truth about me: I don’t personally know what it is to grieve deeply. I’ve never had to grieve the death of dearly close friend or family member. This means that for the most part, I’ve not walked in the shoes of most of you. And so, for the past thirty or so years, whenever I’ve been called upon to stand alongside a church member or friend in their hour of grief, I’ve never been able unable to draw out of the well of personal experience to know what it is they’re going through. I can imagine it, but that’s not the same thing. Because of my life experiences thus far, I can’t know it feels like to experience crippling grief.
That being the case, any answer I provide to the question I asked – is there good news at the time of death? – is said with a bit trepidation for fear that it may smack of naivete. And, if personal experience is a requirement to speak to the truth of the Good News, then yes, I’d be guilty of being naïve. But it’s my belief that truth is truth regardless of one’s experience, and so I will continue boldly proclaim it at the time of death knowing full well that a day is coming for me when my assertions to the truth of the Good News will in fact be affirmed by personal experience.
So, let me ask it again: when a loved one dies, even a child, is there good news to be proclaimed? The answer is, yes there absolutely is!
In short, the good news is that unlike me, God personally knows your deepest pain. He’s personally acquainted with every difficult and painful feeling you’ve ever felt. He knows it because he’s been there! He grieved the death of his own Son, Jesus. God knows grief firsthand. In fact, it could even be argued that he continues to feel the pain of grief even after our own begins to subside. Why? Because in this broken world, not a second goes by that someone somewhere isn’t suffering, and when we suffer, I believe God feels it. That we’ve got the image of God within us connects us to him, and so when we hurt deeply, God feels it to a degree. So, one aspect of the good news at the time of death is that we’re not alone in our grief. Sometimes, it may feel that way, but the deep abiding truth is that God’s right there at our side even when we’re unaware of his presence.
The good news also includes the fact that grief, and even death itself, doesn’t have the last word. Yes, grief may tarry a long time, even years, but God’s made a promise that those who trust in him will not be subject to that deep grief forever. Yes, maybe for this lifetime there will always be some semblance of the grief we feel. But God’s promise to his children is that we will not carry that grief with us to our place of eternal rest. Human grief is limited to this world, and when we take our final breath to this world, we bid grief good-bye forever.
In the vision given to John concerning the End of Days, Jesus spoke of a day when the earth and heavens that we currently know will be replaced with “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). I haven’t a clue as to what that will look like or how it’ll come about, but I believe it’ll happen somehow. God knows how to make it happen since he’s the one who created the current cosmos! Who’s to say he can’t replace it with a new cosmos? Anyway, according to John’s vision, when this new creation does come about, all pain and suffering, sadness and grief, hurting and dying—all of it will be eternally swept away never to be experienced again. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll be such that it won’t even be a memory. Or even a concept. Maybe it’ll be such that when we’re ushered into this new Kingdom of Heaven, there won’t even be a concept of grief because it’ll be as though it never was.
Even though I’ve not walked the path that many of you have walked, I’ve watched and listened to you through the years. You’ve told me that it hurt more than you thought you’d be able to bear, but as you looked back you were able to see where God was healing your heart, and that at some point along the way you realized that it didn’t hurt quite as much as it did before. That’s good news.
I’ve heard you tell me that one of the things that gave you hope, even in the midst of tremendous emotional turmoil, was your steadfast belief that God was walking with you, that he knows your pain, and that his plan for you includes a day when all the grief you feel will come to an end. Forever. That’s good news.
Over the past twelve months, many of you have said good-bye to a dearly loved one: a husband, a wife, a brother, a sister, a mother, a father, an in-law, a cousin, aunt, uncle, or grandparent. No doubt, their absence is palpable. But even more definite is the Good News that in Jesus Christ we know what it is to live, truly live. May all of us never forget that the last and final word is that life, eternal life, resides in Jesus Christ, even in the face of death. That, dear friends, is the Good News.
Thanks be to God.
Immediately following the sermon was our liturgy for remembering and naming the saints, church and family members who have passed away in the last twelve months.