As I thought and prayed about what to say on this day many emotions overwhelmed me. I was of course very sad…even mad for while…that Dianne was so quickly taken from Tony and his family. Dianne was a fine Christian lady. Not a perfect one but an authentic Christian woman. One who leaves a huge hole in many hearts.
Why did it have to happen the way that it did I questioned out load to the Lord? I suspect many of you here today joined in that question too.
I’m afraid I didn’t come up with a single good reason to give you. I have no amazing insight for the “why question” to offer you this morning. I firmly believe that in time you will understand but for now I can say with certainty this question poses no relief, gives no comfort, and has no hope. From what I knew of Dianne, I know she was not worried about that question as she took her final breath. In fact she was so saturated with assurance that she was ready to go home the moment the call came from the Lord.
So where did she get such assurance from?
Perhaps it was from reading and knowing and trusting in God’s Holy Word? I suspect that was a major factor for sure but her assurance was deeper than simply knowing words from a book.
Several verses flooded my thoughts as I drove home from Camrose on the Monday before this family gathering. Words that usually bring me some assurance yet in that sad and madden state of mind I found little comfort in them throughout the day. Through the night as I wrestled with god over their meaning I began to feel that peace that rises above the uncertainties of life.
Allow me a few minutes to share with you the verses that I grappled with and the understanding I received. Perhaps they can begin to fill the assurance voids that your heart needs in this time of turmoil and grief.
The first verse that came to mind was this one from Psalm 121:1-2 (NLT).
“I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!”
It was a beautiful day with blue sky and white glistening snow as we drove home on Monday. When we got to Field, BC, I gazed into the town where I saw this small church sticking out like a beacon. So I immediately turned into town and went to find it and it was then that this scripture went through my mind and I saw the picture therein before I actually took it. “I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” Psalm 121:1-2 (NLT).
This was a Psalm of David that he wrote a little later in life. He knew very well that help doesn’t come from stones or even beautiful scenery. He learned that lesson as he wallowed at times in grief and despair. He was a man that journeyed in the dark valley that you may find yourself in today but clearly David didn’t stay there for the rest of his days on earth. Yet it was in those valleys that he became saturated in assurance.
One of those darker moments came when his infant son was as the Bible tells it, “sick unto death”. David, the most powerful man in the kingdom, saw his son dying and dawned sack cloth and ashes and began fasting and praying that his son would live. His heart was painfully burdened. But when the news came that his son died something happened that caught David’s household by surprise. David immediately got up and washed and went to eat.
“His servants asked him, “Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!” He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12:21-23 (NIV)
David’s time in prayer and fasting had brought him to the point of saturation of assurance. He knew that God could have healed his son and yet when that was not the outcome David reached the point of accepting God’s sovereignty, not understanding it mind you…but accepting it. He grieved and yet he was assured. He knew that he could not bring his son back from the dead but was assured that this parting was temporary. David said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”(23). Though the pain of separation was tremendous David’s assurance from God, that this was not the end, enabled him to carry on with his life and the purposes for it that laid ahead.
As I thought about that I struggled deep within with the “ya bits”. You ever have those? “ya buts?” Those nagging comparison questions that want to argue the obvious. Mine, for this passage, was: “Ya but, David’s son was so young. He hadn’t spent a lifetime with him as Tony, and the rest of you have with Dianne. Surely it is not the same! Your grief comes from more than 42 years of loving relationship with her, his from days. Clearly your grief is so much more profound. Can you possibly be over it in a day? A week? A month? How long will it take?
I have an answer for that…it won’t satisfy your longing to feel normal again…the answer is: As long as it takes. And just when you think it is over…another wave of grief will come again and remind you, each one a little less intense than the previous. You will never be completely over the loss of someone you love. But you will in time accept it and live again.
Love so deep leaves holes so big, I wouldn’t presume to tell you how long it should take to feel like getting on with life as “normal”. Whatever that is. But know this for David it seems shorter than it likely was.
I was also reminded of Mary and Martha’s journey. They were friends of Jesus whose brother had gotten sick. Theirs, like yours was a lifelong relationship shortened by sudden illness.
They sent word for Jesus to come at once to heal their dear brother for he too was “sick unto death”. If Jesus didn’t come at once it would be too late. The time was short indeed. And before Jesus arrived, Lazarus died; his body was already in the tomb for four days. The mourners had gathered to weep and wail. His sisters dawned the clothes of grief. It was an emotionally distraught time. And when Jesus got there, the Bible tells us that, he too wept. His heart was overwhelmed for his friends, he knew their pain and the hopelessness that grief can bring. But God had other plans in store for them for that day.
As Jesus was talking to Martha, “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:23-26 (NIV)
Martha thought Jesus meant about the same as David meant when he said I will go to him he will not return to me”. It had been four days in the tomb already! One day…sometime in the future…there will be a resurrection. Perhaps on that day Martha would be with Lazarus again. Just like on that day David will be with his son again.
Dianne knew this passage well. She knew what would come next for Martha and Mary. Knew that Jesus would awaken the dead man and call him out of the grave.
We as Christians know that God can and sometimes still does raise people from the dead reuniting them, at least temporarily with their loved ones. But you and I know that will not be the case with Dianne. She is not coming back temporarily from the grave. I do not want to provide you with false hope for today. And even Jesus really didn’t mean for the temporary resurrection of Lazarus to be the promise that people cling to as they read through this passage of scripture.
Jesus wasn’t so interested in the temporary but rather He wanted to saturate us with assurance. When He called Lazarus from the dead for Mary and Martha, it was to prove once and for all that He was sovereign…even over death. He was and still is the resurrection and the life.
Jesus proved that physically, albeit temporarily, that day with Lazarus who of course died physically once again and like the rest of us had to await the full resurrection to come. Yet in doing so Jesus showed us the marvelous truth that David clung to with his son. There is indeed a resurrection from the dead, a real resurrection that awaits us who belong to Christ. It wasn’t just hallow words that we have no proof of. Lazarus really, physically, rose from the dead that day. And we shall rise again and so shall those whom we loved and who had fallen asleep in Christ be united with us. It will be as real as it was for Mary, Martha and Lazarus the day he walked out of the tomb.
This I believe was the saturation of assurance that Dianne held to. She knew that the parting would be painful for all who loved her but she also knew that the pain would be temporary because of what Jesus did. Dianne knew it wasn’t just words on a page because she knew Jesus just like Mary and Martha knew him, as a loving friend and more so as her own Savior.
Dianne had such assurance that she told her family that she didn’t want to have a sad funeral service but rather that her ashes be scattered in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Her life proved her relationship and her faith in Christ has so saturated her with assurance that she saw no need for a funeral.
Dianne knew well the words that apostle Paul wrote, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 (NIV)
Dianne knew these words well but more than that she knew this same Jesus who would unite her with those whom she loved that had gone before her. And she now awaits those who are temporarily separated from her as they complete what God has given them to do on earth.
That’s why Dianne didn’t want this day to be about the “grief of men with no hope”(13). She knows that her family has this same eternal hope and knows that this same Jesus will saturate them with that assurance.
Those who have not this assurance feel finality in her death. It is that hopeless feeling that they will never see her again. Whereas, Tony, Chris and Joanne, Daniel and Nathan, and the rest of your family who know Jesus already have that same assurance.
So as you sit around the tables today and grieve please remember that this is truly temporary. Though Dianne cannot come back to you, you will indeed be united again on the resurrection day. Swap some stories of how you enjoyed your time with her. Shed some tears, its ok, when we lose someone we love it’s bound to happen more than once. We’ll miss them but we know that this parting is for a short time at least for those who are believers in Christ. We have the same assurance that David, Martha and Mary, Lazarus and even Dianne shared. So as the memories leak out, let the tears flow and know also that joy comes in the morning.
Remember too, that when your assurance reaches saturation Dianne would want you to continue to do whatever is was that brings you great joy in service Jesus.