"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." I Peter 1:3
Last week I was so blessed to watch the funeral of Dr. Billy Graham. What a celebration of joy it was. All of his children and his surviving sister spoke. All of them, though saddened by the temporary loss of their father and brother, spoke with a holy joy, knowing that he, as he had often said, wasn't dead, but had entered into the fullness of His Life in Jesus Christ. All spoke with the full assurance that they would see him again, and be re-united not only with him, but with his and their Lord, Jesus Christ. The glow of the Holy Spirit was everywhere, and one couldn't be but moved by watching it all. I add to this the account given by a friend who had gone to see Dr. Graham as he lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda. He said that the faces of both the family members who were present, and those who had come to honor his memory, were faces reflecting the joy and wonder of the Lord. Hope and Glory were what was seen. So much so that some of the family members actually prayed with and led one of the attendees to Christ. Such is the case for all those who live secure in their hope that is Jesus Christ the Lord.
As I watched it all, the Lord brought back a memory to me of a funeral I presided over in the early years of my ministry. A couple had been coming to church. Both had a very hard lifestyle, and both had real problems with alcohol. Being a young pastor, I really had no great expertise or wisdom to offer them, so I offered the only thing I could; hope. A living hope in Christ. Not long after their beginning to come, the husband's mother died. I was the only pastor they knew, and was asked to do the funeral. It was the first funeral I'd ever done. I will never forget that day. There were four people in attendance. Her husband, her son, his wife, and a dear old lady who sat in the front pew. I felt overwhelmed as to what I could do to minister, but I placed my inadequacy upon Him, and tried to preach a message of hope and salvation in Him. At the end, I invited all to receive that living hope. The father, his son and his wife just looked at me....with faces that showed not anger, not even outright rejection, but utter and complete hopelessness and despair. I closed the service, and was shortly invited to come to the home of the couple. The father would be there as well. I thought that maybe this would be the chance to lead them to Him and to His Life. It wasn't. Not every story has the happy, celebration ending.
When I got there, all three were sitting at the kitchen table. Before each one was a glass...filled with whiskey from the bottle that sat in the middle of the table. As I sat with them, not knowing at all what I should do or say, and seeing in their faces no hope, no expectation, just despair. The look of the lost. The thought I had is that this must be a glimpse of what hell is. I tried, likely poorly, to speak hope and life, but the words seemed to fall right upon the table I sat at. They just continued to pour drinks...and the sense of darkness grew heavier by the moment. Finally, I sensed His leading to take my leave. I, and most importantly, He, could do no more here. I prayed a prayer that I don't think they heard, offered my help in any and all ways in the days to come, and left that awful scene.
The couple and the father came a few more times, but they were increasingly distant, and finally just walked away. My efforts to stay connected were rejected. The atmosphere that was present at that kitchen table was the atmosphere that they had chosen to live in. I grieved it all. They could have been born again into that living hope that is Christ. Instead, they chose the darkness of death. That was many years ago, and they come to mind often. That was especially so as I witnessed the celebration of joy in Dr. Graham's memorial. They had been invited to enter into the joy of that celebration. Did they ever? Or did they remain in the darkness of death? Did they ever receive that invite from that day into the celebration, or did they remain in the realm of hopelessness and despair? The realm of hell.
So what of you and I? Have we really entered into the life of His living hope? I don't ask if you ever walked an aisle to an altar, or prayed a prayer of salvation. I ask if you, we, have, by the witness of our lives, live in the joy, wonder, and glory of the hope we have in the risen Christ? Are you free from the grip of death and so held in the embrace of His love? Do we live in celebration of His Life....with full expectation that we not only will one day enter into it's fullness in eternity, but can live in all it's fullness possible right now? Are we most at home with brother Billy and his fellow celebrants, or, do we look and live more like those ones at that kitchen table? What really is our witness? Are we celebrants of His Life, or mourners because of our lack of it?