Monday, February 2, 2015

Christians Don't Really Die They Fall Asleep - RIP Carole Alft

April 16, 1939 - December 18, 2014

Jesus says “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” And so it is that Christians fall asleep when they die. 

But it’s not like so many think it means. It’s not the end of the party. Christians don’t bury their loved ones as if this were the last hurrah – to signal the end of life. We Christians have funerals to mock death, dance on our own graves, and boldly confess that we believe in the bodily resurrection of all flesh in heavenly splendor.

Christians don’t really die. They fall asleep. For my children at home, when we tuck them in at night we are already looking forward - talking about the next day - talking about what we will do when the sun comes up and the morning comes. The best part about falling asleep is that we wake up. We open our eyes. We start a brand new day. 

Carole is not dead. She is sleeping. That’s what the Bible says. She has fallen asleep in the arms of Jesus. We’ll go to union cemetery in Tigerton this afternoon not to say final farewells. We don’t bury our Christian brothers and sisters while looking in the rear view mirror remembering all that was. We look forward to what will be – to the wonderful things to come. The word cemetery comes from a Latin word, coemeterium, a word referring to the sleeping barracks which housed roman soldiers while they slept. Cemeteries are sleeping barracks for those who are awaiting the trumpet blast – Reveille – when the sun comes up.

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with the cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God and the dead in Christ will rise first. They will step out of their graves in the morning light. Jesus will call Carole by name – gently lift her up by his loving hand – and Carole will open her eyes, smile, rejoice and dance again.

For a gravestone inscription I always thought it would be good to simply have the words “This is just a temporary setback.”  That is why Job in the Old Testament says “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting. The sting of death is sin. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Dear friends and family of Carole. The Christian life is not for sissies. It’s filled with trouble, sufferings, and bitter disappointments and Carole had those too. But even commending an infant daughter back into God’s hands could not shake her faith and love for Christ. 

Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Carole was not spared a cross but she carried it with grace, and joyful perseverance. Even amidst hardship, and sickness, and loss she knew that God was good to her. She trusted that her Savior was merciful and kind and loved her. During this last year when her health sharply declined, she seemed to take even greater comfort in the words and promises of God. 

On my last visit with Carole at rehab in Chippewa Falls I asked how she was dealing with this time of difficult testing and spiritual trial. She told me with a smile, that everything she had she was giving up to God. In that moment of physical weakness she was still stronger than all the angels in heaven – a faith like King David and St. Paul who said the same thing when they commended themselves over to God and prayed “into thy hands O Lord I commit Thy Spirit.” 

Carole loved this church. She rejoiced in the Lord’s Supper. She came for Bible study. At her bedside, she loved to have hymns and songs song to her. On this eve of Christmas, falling asleep in Jesus arms is a fitting remembrance of the faith that sustained her. The child born in Bethlehem was her greatest gift. Her source of great joy. She now beholds Him face to face before the angels in heaven. To Carole’s children, your mothers lives and the same hands that held you and cradled you will hold you again. 

Keith, Jesus says “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me…Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hear my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life..For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whoever believeth in him shall never perish but have eternal life.”   

Carole has gone on ahead of us. We are happy for her but we also cry. But this day let your bitters tears become sweet by the words and promises of God. Jesus walked out the grave Easter morning for you too. The same God of love who cared for Carol cares for you too.

After sadness make room in your hearts for joy. The trumpet will blast and Jesus will descend from heaven with all his angels and this valley of tears shall be lifted. Those who have fallen asleep will open their eyes. We shall walk out of our graves into the morning light and we too shall see God for ourselves.    

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guards your heart and minds in Christ Jesus. In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

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