My first funeral as a pastor was for my grandpa. He was a giant of a man, physically and by presence, a true patriarch. Having to deal personally with his death, while grappling with how to bring encouraging words for my family, was challenging and scary. Death is the scariest thing that we will ever face. It hangs over us. Ever present on the horizon, yet at some unknown distance. Having to face it in the death of our loved ones often serves as a startling reminder of our future reality.
In the person of Jesus, God took on flesh. He became a man. Jesus lived the fullness of the human experience with all of its joys and sorrows. He lost close loved ones. In His suffering and death, Jesus entered into the darkness and sorrow that hangs on the horizon for us all. He went into the valley of the shadow of death and drank the cup prepared for him, draining it to the dregs. Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, was buried and lay in a tomb in the ground. Let that sink in. He went to the grave and took on death. For us.
Jesus not only entered into our experience, though. He also calls us to join Him in life and hope. The path is still through sorrow and death, but Jesus’ resurrection gives the promise of life to come, life that can never be taken from us again. This union with Jesus Christ is one of the most beautiful and mysterious outworkings of the gospel. Jesus gave us a portrait to celebrate the journey from life, through sorrow and death, to life resurrected. That portrait is baptism.
Baptism serves as a public proclamation and celebration of an individual’s faith, in the presence of their church family. As the individual is lowered they are showing their unity with Jesus in His suffering and sorrow. As they are moved beneath the water, it shows their unity with Jesus in His death and burial. And as they are finally raised, it shows their unity with Jesus in new life, cleansed and indwelt by the Spirit of God. Meanwhile the church gets to join the angels in Heaven, rejoicing and celebrating God’s saving work.
Baptism also serves as a reminder to those in God’s family. It reminds us that our suffering and sorrow now puts us on the same journey as Jesus. It reminds us that God is able to raise the dead, and there is hope for us on the other side of the journey. Even as we stand at the funerals of loved ones, as hard as it is to say goodbye, we know that Jesus has experienced it all. More than that, He took on this great enemy, death itself, and won.
- When have you felt the sorrow of death most deeply?
- What makes it hard to turn to God in your sorrow?
- How does Jesus’ life and experience reshape your approach to God?
- Have you been baptized? If not, what’s stopping you?
- Bill Riedel