The hymn O Worship the King uses a striking phrase to describe the condition of man in this fallen world of ours. It describes us as “frail children of dust, and feeble as frail.” That line contains two elements of biblical truth that I want to emphasize here today. The first is that we are indeed frail children of dust. But the second element is also important, and that is the element of glory. When it says that we are as feeble as frail, the import of that phrase might be lost if you didn’t know that frail described a kind of delicate china. This includes the element of glory, but transient, passing glory. Frail things are obviously frail, but frail things can be exquisitely beautiful and glorious. Beautiful things are not required to be sturdy.
The Bible certainly describes our condition in this world as fragile. We are dust, the Psalmist says. God is considerate of our frame; He knows that we are dust (Ps. 103:14). To counter our boasting and pride, the apostle James says that our lives here are a mist (Jas. 4:14). And the Psalmist emphasizes the point yet again when he says this: “Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; And mine age is as nothing before thee: Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Ps. 39:5) “When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, Thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth: Surely every man is vanity” (Ps. 39:11). “Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: To be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity” (Ps. 62:9).
For some these might be assumed to be melancholy thoughts, and they would rather not think of them. But this is a funeral, this is a memorial service after all, and should we not take a moment like this to reflect on our own mortality? Well, certainly we should, but we have to take the biblical teaching in the full biblical context.
Earlier I mentioned the element of glory. First, as Christians we know that the Scriptures promise us a sure and certain hope of the resurrection. There is glory coming, and the Bible tells us this wonderfully and explicitly. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). There is a glory coming, and all the sufferings we have ever gone through, raked together in a heap, would not even move the balances if any of this glory were on the other side. We long for that glory, and we look forward to that resurrection.
Toward that end, God has given us intimations of glory. We see brief, passing, evanescent displays of it . . . and then it is gone. In this world, glory is glory, but it is frail—it goes. There is glory coming, certainly, but God has given us trace elements of that glory in our lives here and now.
Last night many of us were privileged to see a gorgeous and overdone sunset. It was the most lurid orange you could possibly imagine, with a rainbow issuing challenges on the other side of the sky, as though they were vying with each other. In this case, the sunset won. Now this display lasted just a few minutes, and then it was gone. Completely done. Vanished. It was as gone as glorious sunsets of a century ago. The only thing it left behind was the sure and certain knowledge that somewhere it must be like that all the time.
We see them, but not really. If a sunset like that happened every century or so, and it happened on a schedule, when the time rolled around, there would be hundreds of thousands of people gathered to see it. Symphonies would be written about it. Poems would be composed. If it happened every century, we might really see it. But whether we see it or not, something is still there to be seen.
Man is such glory. He is the image and glory of God. Nevertheless his day of departure arrives—all flesh is grass, and the grass withers and the flower fades. But while it is here, what do we have? We have the image and glory of God, fading like the best sunset you ever saw.
This sanctuary is filled with people whose lives will set. This world is filled with them also; we have billions of them. We just walk by them, not really noticing what is occurring. What is occurring is a promise. The fading glory, followed by a black night, is a promise of a coming glory, followed by a glorious day. Moments of glory before the sky turns black are a brief and momentary statement of what the dawn of the everlasting day will be like.
So what we are told by every sunset is that Christ is the ultimate sunrise, and that He will rise over creation, just as He rose from the dead, and He will shine on every man. “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Eph. 5:14).
Marjorie Becker was a Christian women, who trusted in Jesus for her salvation. Her sun has now set, but her Dawn and ours is steadily approaching. The everlasting Dawn is another day closer than it was. It will happen. How many millions of times has God promised it? Every night we lie down to sleep, to practice our dying, and every morning, we clamber out of bed, haltingly practicing our resurrection skills.
Marjorie has gone before us, and just as will happen with us, she had all of her frailties swallowed up by life. Whenever someone who believes in Jesus approaches death, this particular smudge of cloud, or that one, just adds to the wonder. It is true frailty; the sun is setting. It is true glory, and nothing can be said that counters the promise of the Dawn. This is true for all of us.
We have been told many times—this glory will not last. And this glory will not last because in and through its passing, the good Lord is promising us a glory that cannot fade. We are Christians, and so we believe in the resurrection of the dead. We believe that orange fades to black, and that black turns to gray, and that gray bursts into an everlasting azure day.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.