On Saturday, I will be officiating at the funeral of Ron Sides, church member, community leader, husband, father, grandfather, motorcycle rider, and good friend to many, including me. Just five weeks so, we buried his lovely wife, Martha. Several times in the last few days, I have thought and said, “How am I going to be able to preach this funeral?”
Ron was one of the first to offer friendship to me when I came to Krum not quite four years ago. He and Martha came to my Bible studies where he loved taking the opposite point of view from my own. Ron, my resident skeptic, possessed well-developed intelligence and used it with great wit and glee. Several times in the course of our acquaintance, he told me he did not really think there was a life after this one. He figured when we died, we just died.
Last week, when I walked into his hospital room, he looked up, smiled, and then said, “Preacher, I’m going to meet the Lord.” With good humor, sharp mind and powerful determination, he courageously faced the end of this life. And as he did, he knew that there is indeed an eternality to our souls.
Jesus said that he came to give eternal life, and that eternal life was knowing God. Knowing God–not just knowing that God is, or perhaps a few facts (or superstitions) about God, or being afraid of the wrath of God, but knowing–intimate, life-changing knowledge of God. That’s eternal life. We can get glimpses only of it now. As the Scriptures say, “we see through a glass darkly.” The window from this life to the next is smudged, cracked, muddied, distorted. We can’t see through it well.
Earlier this week, I had a disturbance in my vision that demanded a immediate and thorough eye exam, including that awful process of having my pupils dilated so the physician could get a very good look at a possible problem developing. The drive home afterward was a nightmare for me–driving in the misting rain, needing to take extra cautions to be safe, everything just a bit off-kilter. Yes, I was seeing through a glass darkly (actually, seeing through it lightly because of too much light pouring in, but you get the drift here). I was so relieved later in the day when my vision fields cleared. I could read, work, focus again.
As we are now half-way through Lent, let us continue to be honed by this time of fasting and extra discipline to see more clearly our own souls. This time of rigorous self-examination gives some space to clean that dark and smudged glass between us and the glory of the kingdom of Heaven. We’ll not see the fullness of God-with-us life with total clarity until we, as Ron and Martha are now, come face to face with God. But we can train our eyes to begin to discern those rays of pure light and absolute love. We can expose our souls to that light and love and intentionally receive it and let it do its work in us. We can make powerful and intentional choices to live as people of that light and love and refuse to compromise ourselves for the sake of convenience, for the sake of being rich, or popular, or famous, or so comfortable that we end up in that most subtle and most dangerous of all evils: trading away that which is best for that which is merely good.
So as I write of light and absolute love, and continue to ponder the question, “How can I officiate at Ron’s funeral?” I also have some answers: I will stand securely and firmly in the midst of that light and remind all of us that death has lost its sting. Death has no victory, for Christ has been raised from the dead, and we too will join him in resurrection and hope. For this I say, “Thanks be to God.”