We have gathered at this memorial service for many reasons—to honor the memory of Shirley Hardaway, to comfort her loved ones, to remember our own mortality, and these reasons—together with others— are good reasons.
But we have also gathered for another reason, a very simple one. The reason we have been able to come here today is that we are all still alive. We have the gift of life, and this is why we could come. There is air in our lungs as evidenced by our singing. There is energy in our bodies, as evidenced by how we walked from our cars into the sanctuary. There is oxygen in our brains, which is why we can think about what is being said right now. We are here, all of us, among the living.
Why is this the case? Why are we alive? We are alive because we were given that gift by God, through the creative power of His Son, our Lord Jesus. He is the author and giver of life. He gave us life in the first instance, and He continues to give us every moment that we continue to enjoy. The Bible teaches that God is our creator (Heb. 1:2), but also that He is our sustainer (Heb. 1:3). He upholds all things, it says, by the word of His power. All that would be necessary for us to go out of existence would be for God to cease speaking our lives. He speaks, and we live. There is no other reason.
The reason I mention this is because it is a gift that the Bible says will be given to us twice. We live once, in what we call “our lives,” but the Bible says that there is another life after the death that concludes the first life. More than that, the Bible says that in comparison to the life that is coming, this earthly life of ours is short and shadowy, light and transitory.
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Cor. 15:20-23).
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was an “end of the world” kind of event. When the dead are raised, then this is the indication that all things are fulfilled. What God did, when Jesus rose, is He took that “end of the world” kind of event, and placed it right in the middle of human history. He wanted us to be able to see it. We are on a long journey, and God wanted us to be able to see where He is taking us.
In the passage I just read, it says that the resurrection of Jesus was the first fruits of the general resurrection. All Christ’s followers will be raised after Him, and will be raised just like He was. The great harvest will happen because Jesus rose. One man led all humanity into death—which is why we die, and one other man will lead all the new humanity into eternal life.
Some people think that it is absurd to believe that God can raise our bodies from the dead like this, and make us into rejoicing, living, singing, worshiping creatures again. That is an impossibility, they say. How could such a thing be? How could we be recreated from the ground? Well, how was it possible for us to be created from inanimate matter the first time? And yet here we are. The scoffer who says that it is impossible for the dead to be raised to life out of inert matter is a scoffer who himself is made out of inert matter. God does this all the time. We see it happening all around us.
And the God who gives us many years to enjoy the sunlight of His common grace is the same God who tells us in His Word that the dead are raised. This is not an automatic, all-purpose feel good ending—Jesus Himself says that there is a resurrection of the just and of the unjust both. “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). This is why we are very grateful that Shirley confessed Christ two years ago, and took the gracious mark of Christ in baptism. There was rejoicing in Heaven when she professed her faith (Luke 15:10), and there was also rejoicing in Heaven on October 24 when they received her into the presence of that great celestial company that, together with us, is longing for the day when all things will be made new.
There should be no more disbelief over everything being made new than there is over how they were all made the first time. Unbelief is a remarkable thing. The God who promises to place new life, forgiveness, grace, and loving kindness, into our hands is the same God who gave us hands in the first place. Resurrection life is simply more of the same kind of thing that God has been doing for us all along. In our sin and unbelief, we have been able to disrupt His grace to us—which is what suffering and death in this world are—but that disruption is not capable of foiling God’s final intention for this world.
And so we gather in faith, marking each death of each believer the same way a farmer considers a seed that goes in the ground. It is not the end. It is the very first step in the very greatest beginning.
In this service of remembrance, we want not only to remember Shirley, but also her beloved husband of 58 years—Rusty passed away five years ago, and as they lived together for many years, so also they are joined again together in this remembrance.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.