Funeral Sermon for Anna
I read in the obituary that Anna died at the age of ninety-seven years, one month, and thirteen days. Hearing the length of life figured out to the day like that is a reminder that while our time on earth is usually measured in years, our lives are lived day by day. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, O Lord, and so apply our hearts to wisdom.” Your life is given to you one day at a time, and someday there will be for you also, a final tally. And everyone, even the very oldest, says the same thing. They say “Those days go by fast;” even if, like Anna, they get 35,472 days.
In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes (chapter 3) it says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…;” and so on for several more verses. In that same book, two chapters earlier, the old philosopher said: “Whatever has been, will be again, and what has been done, will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” That is where the old saying comes from, ‘nothing new under the sun.’ It was being said 3,000 years ago already. Of course, there are a few more gadgets around now then were back then; but in all the big ways, life is pretty much the same. We are born, we struggle to get by and get along, we get old, we get sick, and we die. Like he said, there is a time for everything, and you are all know the routine. Nothing new under the sun.
But then right after that section on ‘a time for everything,’ the writer does throw in at least the possibility of something new and different. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “God has made everything beautiful in its time, and he has set eternity in the hearts of men.” Eternity. There’s something new. That is something outside of the usual routine. It is certainly outside of anything we’ve ever seen. Everyone dies, no one lasts for much more than a hundred years, and only a few make that. Where does he get this talk about eternity?
Well, eternity is in our hearts like the verse says, isn’t it? That wish for something more is indeed within each of us. You feel it in your frustration with the swift passage of time; you feel it in your fear of death; you feel it in your desire to see your loved ones again; and you feel it in your reaching out for and wanting something more than what you can ever get in the confines of the few short years of this life. There is something in us that is not satisfied with even 97 years, which is far more than the average. It wasn’t enough for Anna. Anna wanted to live. She often talked of wanting to get to be 100 years old, and more. Even with the increasing challenges of old age, she didn’t want this adventure to end. That desire is a testimony to the goodness of God’s gift of life. If we, like Anna, have the health to enjoy life, we can’t ever get enough of it. And even if we get really sick, there is something in us that keeps wishing we could get better, and be here just a little longer. The long ago writer of Ecclesiastes felt the same way, and he expressed it like this: “God has put eternity into our hearts.” Our bodies come with a time limit and wear out and die. But in our heart and in our spirit, we wish for far more than our bodies allow us.
The Bible not only describes that wish, but it also provides the answer to our heart’s deepest desire. Martha said to Jesus after the death of her brother, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died;” and Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live again.” Jesus then went over to the tomb of Lazarus and raised him from the dead, bringing him back so that he could live out the rest of his natural days. Not long after that, Jesus himself died and rose from the dead. But Jesus was raised never to die again, promising to also raise from the dead all who died believing in him. Contrary to what it says in Ecclesiastes, that will indeed be something new under the sun.
One day, Jesus said something that offended his hearers. Several people who had been following him, left him. Jesus then turned to the twelve disciples and said, “Are you going to leave, too?”
Peter made a wonderful reply, saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus, and no one else, has the words of eternal life. Where else would you go to receive such a promise, made by one who was able to make good on his words by showing everyone that he could raise the dead? Who else has managed that? There are no other offers on the table.
Every funeral is a reminder to us of the importance of that promise and the importance of looking to Jesus for that hope. There are other reminders. Each birthday tells us another year has gone by, and every New Year’s Eve brings the same message; and the generations come and go. Nothing new under the sun. Except one thing: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
FUNERAL PRAYER: We give back to you, O Lord, those whom you gave to us. You did not lose them when you gave them to us, and we do not lose them by their return to you. Your Son taught us that if we believe in Him, life is eternal, so death is only an horizon and an horizon is only the limit of our sight. Open our eyes to see more clearly and draw us closer to you, so that we may be closer to our loved ones who are with you. You have told us that you are preparing a place for us. Prepare us also for that happy place, so that where you are, we may be also. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.