We have two basic purposes in our gathering here today. The one purpose is to remember and honor the life of Eileen Lawyer, and second and more fundamental purpose is to glorify the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now a common element in funerals is the presence of flowers. But the flowers we have here in the front of the church are just a small example, a figure, of another kind of bouquet.
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:14-16).
Notice how this passage begins, with thanksgiving to God. This is only possible because we are in Christ, and if we are in Christ we are partakers of His triumph. When that happens, Paul says that through us a certain fragrance is spread everywhere. That fragrance is defined as consisting in the knowledge of Him. Why? Paul says that we believers “are the aroma of Christ” to the world.
He mentions the proximate source of the aroma twice. He first says the fragrance is spread through us, and he follows it up by saying that we are the aroma of Christ. But this has nothing to do with who we are in ourselves. It is not our background, our education, our personalities, our tribes—nothing to do with merit on our end at all. No, he says that this particular fragrance is the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. To know Him is to be alive. To know Him is to exude the fragrance of being alive, to send out the smell of life itself.
To those who are trapped in unbelief, this aroma is not at all appealing. That aroma is somehow from death to death. The prepositions from and to are interesting. The same thing happens an instant later when Paul is talking about those who are being saved. For them the aroma is from life to life. The prepositions are the same, and the aroma is the same, but the destinations are in opposite directions.
This is a funeral, and so the occasion for it is obviously a death. But this is a Christian funeral and that is why it is suffused with the aroma of life. Eileen was truly alive in Christ, and she was surrounded by a community of saints who also, together with her, exuded the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. Some of you sent flowers on this occasion, but as we are gathered here together in the name of Jesus Christ, we are gathered as flowers. This is a large and aromatic bouquet.
Eileen was alive in Christ. She exuded the aroma of life. She was vibrant, engaged, happy, giving, and more. All of this was her life. But if it was spiritual life, as it was, notice what this text says. The aroma is from life to life.
The apostle Paul says elsewhere that for him to live was Christ, and to die was gain (Phil. 1:21). Another way of saying this is that to live is Christ, and to die is more Christ. To live is life, and to die is more life. The Christian lives from life to life. He lives with life behind him, and with life ahead of him. But not only is life before us, stretching out ahead of us, but it is everlasting and eternal life that is before us (John 3:36).
Think of the most beautiful photo of a road you have ever seen, one with the road stretching away for who knows how many miles toward a mountain range that is beyond glorious, and with something that looks like an everlasting dawn rising on the mountains. The word that comes to mind is not denial of where you are now, but rather an invitation into much more of what you have now. Eileen has been denied nothing but some of the lesser glories; she was invited early into the greater glories.
For those who are believers, at your conversion, you were swallowed up by life, and at your promotion into glory (at death) you are graciously invited into more of it. How much more of it? We will have all of eternity in which we will be not able to answer the question.
But one last caution should be mentioned. This is good news indeed, but it is no form of flattery. The prepositions work in the wrong direction also. For those who do not believe in Jesus, they are refusing the one who identified Himself as the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). They do not just encounter a declaration that they differ with. They encounter a smell that makes them recoil. They pull away, not because the aroma in itself is foul or putrid, but because if someone is in a condition of death, a lifestyle of death, true life smells like death. Lavender smells glorious, but what would it smell like to one of the walking dead?
The psalmist says that precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (Ps. 116:15). This is only possible because death is a vanquished foe. Christ took up the innumerable sins of many, gathered them all to His chest, and sank into death. On the third day, He rose from the dead, but He no longer had those sins with Him. He came back, but the sins didn’t. He came back to life, but death stayed right where it was—and will remain there forever and ever. So, on the basis of this, for everyone who believes—and everyone here is summoned, urged, invited to believe—those sins have been removed from us, as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12).
And so, here at a funeral, we see that life is palpable, solid, and everlasting. Life is grounded on the life that God has in Himself, and the promise of life is settled on His unwavering, unchanging, immutable, and glorious character. These are the words of God—the dead in Christ will rise.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.