Don Quist, RIP

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Welcome, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We have gathered at a Christian funeral or memorial service, and this means that everything in it should revolve around the word honor. We are here to honor God in the first instance, who is the maker and giver of life. We are here to honor His Word, which tells us about things we could otherwise know nothing about—and by this I am referring of course to the afterlife. We are also here to honor father and mother which, Paul tells us, is the first commandment with a promise—that your life may be long in the land the Lord has given to us. More specifically, we are honoring Don’s life, and his life together with Shirley.  

At the very beginning God fashioned Adam out of the dust of the ground, and He fashioned our first mother from a rib, which just a short time before had been made out of dust. After God had made them, male and female, He declared that they were fashioned in His image, meaning that His image was mysteriously imprinted on animated dust. And after we disobeyed His Word and ate the forbidden fruit, the upshot of that vain aspiration was a return to the dust from which we came.

This is how the Lord put it:

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Gen. 3:19 (KJV)

Don was every inch a farmer, and there was nothing about this verse that he would not understand. Down into his bones, he understood it. We have bread because of the sweat on our faces. And we came from dust and we go back to the dust, and in between those two moments we are privileged to bear the image of Almighty God. And when God speaks to the dust of the ground again, and we all rise from the dead, we will then bear the image perfectly. Through the gospel, and only through the gospel, we are told that we will be perfectly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who is the express image of the invisible God.

We should reflect on all of this as a great mystery, and there is wisdom available for those who are willing to meditate on it. All the honor that we are showing to Don here, and any honor that some might perhaps wish they had shown him before he died, is an honor that we can pay forward. We can do it by honoring God, and honoring the people sitting next to us, in front of us, and behind us.

“It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.”

Eccl. 7:2 (KJV)

When we go to the house of mourning prepared to learn wisdom, we learn something about everyman, and not just a few kind words about the one who is deceased.

You will never meet a person who does not bear this divine image. And if we sometimes have trouble seeing it, remember that however much their sin may have marred or obscured the image, it is at least possible that our sin has marred or obscured our ability to see it. Pictures or images are sometimes blurred, but so also eyesight is sometimes blurry.

All human life has dignity. We are reminded of this by the solemnity of funerals. Now when it is the funeral of a believer, it is a glad solemnity, in that we know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6), and we know that right now Don wouldn’t trade ten minutes of his life in glory for 10,000 years of life down here. To live is Christ, Paul once said, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). That means that to live is Christ, and to die is more Christ.

I just said that all human life dignity. But we must also remember that it has an assigned dignity, a designated dignity. Caught up in our conceits, we like to believe that our lives have essential dignity, or an inherent dignity. But we have whatever we have because of the kindness of God, and we only know about it because God has told us about it in His Word.

When we glibly assume that we have essential dignity, that is frequently reserved for ourselves, and it doesn’t take much for us to revoke it from others—perhaps they were driving too slowly ahead of us on the highway. Perhaps there are personality ticks that annoy us. Perhaps they don’t think like we do.

Life is a serious business, and therefore death is a serious business as well. But it can only be serious in the sense I am meaning if life is a grace, a gift, an unmerited kindness from the hand of an all-giving God. What do you have that is not a gift? Paul asks. And if it is a gift, then why do you boast as though it were not (1 Cor. 4:7)?     

Our lives are a mist, we are told, and some might conclude that it cannot be worth all that much. But compared to the absolute nothing we were before we were given this gift, it is an astounding kindness.

So what does it all mean? It means that through Jesus Christ God is offering to each of us the prospect of being the kind of dust that lives forever. If we rest that eternal life on His kindness in the cross, then we will in fact live everlastingly. We tried to make the dust “like God” in our first parents’ rebellion, and that did not work at all. God reminded us of our origin by sending us back to the dust, but He also promised to fetch us back from there in the day of resurrection. What we need to do is simply believe Him, and trust in the great offer made through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And this is what everyone who would be made wiser in the house of mourning is therefore invited to do.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen.