by Don Schiemann
In spring of 2010, I was in Prince George, BC. I preached at our church in the morning and led the congregation through a call meeting in the afternoon. Then I headed off to the airport to catch my flight home—a WestJet flight scheduled to leave at 4:50 p.m. There was an Air Canada flight scheduled to leave around the same time so the departures area in that small airport was relatively crowded with somewhere between 200 to 250 people.
The WestJet plane arrived and, as it pulled up to the gate, a hearse drove to where the plane was parked along with several other vehicles, all containing military personnel. Slowly, it dawned on everyone that we were about to witness a “ramp ceremony.” Cpl. Darren Fitzpatrick had been wounded in Afghanistan and died in hospital in Edmonton. His body was being brought back to his hometown of Prince George for burial.
The grieving family exited the plane and the soldiers snapped to attention as the casket was removed from the cargo hold and loaded into the hearse. In the departures area, everyone was standing in respectful silence. For one brief and sobering moment, we were all reminded of our own mortality and of the grief and pain that death brings into the lives of those who are left behind to mourn.
As a pastor, I’ve been there more times than I can count. I’ve presided at funerals of elderly people who have suffered long from the ravages of disease and old age; of people who have died in the prime of life from cancer or an automobile accident; of little babies who lived only days or even just a few hours. Most recently, I preached at the funeral of Rev. Vern Vansteenberg from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. You may recall him as the author of the article “Facing Death in the Light of Christ” in the December 2012 issue of The Canadian Lutheran.
In the movie “The Lion King”, death is portrayed as a part of the natural “circle of life.” That’s the most ridiculous thing you will ever hear. There is nothing natural about death. Death is the result of sin in the world and in us. It is a cruel enemy and no respecter of persons. It will claim each of us some day—perhaps even today—and ultimately there’s nothing we can do to prevent it.
There is nothing natural about death. Death is the result of sin in the world and in us. It is a cruel enemy and no respecter of persons.
While the reality of death is all around us, you and I can live in hope in the light of the resurrection! I’m not talking about hope as if it were wishful thinking, like the farmer who says “I hope it’s going to rain”; or the person who buys a Tim Horton’s coffee and hopes that when he rolls up the rim, he’ll be a big winner; or the hockey fan who says “I hope my team will make it to the playoffs next year.”
We just came through the church’s season of Lent. The focus was on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ as He took our place under the Law. While He lived a perfect life on our behalf, He was crucified as a common criminal by the government in power at the time. More than that, at the cross, He became our substitute as He bore the full wrath of God for all the sin that has ever been committed in the world—including your sin and mine.
If that was the end of the story, then we would indeed be hope-less people. But St. Paul writes, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4: 13-14).
Through the risen Christ, death has been defeated! “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). When you look at Jesus, the risen Saviour… when you trust in him for forgiveness, for life, and for salvation, you live in hope! You live in the light of the resurrection. You live knowing that this life is not all there is. You live knowing that, through Christ, you have the promise of eternal life in the presence of our gracious God.
Scripture says that Christian hope changes the way we grieve when death strikes. It changes the way that we look at death, and because of that it changes the way we look at life. Someone once said that if you own the future, you never need fear the present. Our confidence about the future comes from seeing everything in the light of the resurrection.
Christian hope changes the way we look at death, and because of that it changes the way we look at life.
God invites us to trust in the risen Christ. He invites us to live in eager expectation—in hope—in light of the fact that Christ the Crucified is risen from the dead. It is in the light of the resurrection that, even in the midst of the challenges of this life, you and I can live in hope. May the light of the resurrection light your way for the here and now and in the yet to come.
Rev. Don Schiemann is President of the Alberta-British Columbia district of Lutheran Church–Canada.