(…continued) The Bible verse I am reminded of when I think of Gary is II Corinthians 4:16: “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” Outwardly we are wasting away, Paul says, and we know what he means– especially after a certain age. As we get older, our strength and abilities and endurance begin to decrease, and our bodies begin their inevitable decline. Outwardly, we waste away, says Paul with his usual bluntness.
For Gary, this started way too early. When his friends were still growing stronger, he was already losing strength. By the time I got to know him, his body was already bent and weak, and his heart and lungs were failing. Then, for four years I watched him decline and weaken even more. It is a process we all will eventually go through, if we live long enough. For Gary, it was a lifelong process. Outwardly, we do ‘waste away.’
But Paul goes on to say more. He says that even though we are not doing very well outwardly, our inner nature can be renewed day by day. That too reminds me of Gary. Though his body was wasting away, he had an inner strength that I always admired and will never forget.
In the next two verses, Paul describes the greatest source of inner strength, a power that does not depend on physical or even mental strength, but is a gift from God. Paul goes on to speak of our eternal hope, which moves us beyond the troubles of this life. Paul could speak of these troubles casually (like Gary always did), saying:
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Then, in the next chapter Paul speaks directly about the body; that body which in this life becomes such a painful burden for so many people, but which in heaven will be made new and perfect and without pain, never to suffer or die again. Paul writes in II Corinthians 5:1-7:
For we know that if the earthly tent (this body) we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. In the meantime we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling… For while we are in this tent (body), we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight.
And the source of that hope, as Paul had already said, and as he was always saying, is in our Lord Jesus Christ. In chapter four (verses 13 and 14) he had said:
It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.
Just as Jesus was risen from the dead, so too will those who have believed in Jesus, rise from the dead. In a few minutes, when in the cemetery at Gary’s grave, we will hear the words of the old service: “In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother Gary, and commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Out of the dust you are taken, unto the dust you shall return and out of the dust you shall rise again.”
When that resurrection day comes and we see Gary again, there will be no more Parkinson’s disease for him, no more uncontrollable shaking, no more freezing up in silent immobility from the strong medicine, and no more weak and faltering voice. Gary’s affliction, ‘light and momentary’ as Paul described it, is now ended, and one day there will be for him the resurrection unto eternal life and peace and health with Jesus.
PRAYER OF THE BYSTANDERS AFTER ONE HAS DIED (from an old prayer book):
O Holy and righteous God! It hath pleased Thee to call ____ from this world by bodily death. O let us learn from this death, that we also must die and leave the world; so that we may prepare ourselves in time by repentance, living faith, and the avoidance of the vanities and sins of the world. Gladden the departed soul with heavenly peace and joy, and fulfill unto him all the gracious promises which Thou hast given to the believers in Thy holy Word. Grant to the body a soft repose in the earth till the last day, when Thou shalt reunite soul and body and lead them to glory, thus filling with heavenly bliss the whole person who has served Thee here on earth. Comfort those whom this death has filled with grief; and be and remain to the bereaved ones their Father, Provider, Guardian, Helper and Friend. Do not forsake them, do not fail them; but let them abundantly experience Thy goodness, grace, love, and help, till at last Thou shalt grant them also a peaceful and happy end. Hear us for Thy mercy’s sake. Amen.