Death Never Has the Last Word
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
This gathering of Eddie’s family and friends includes residents of the Port Huron area together with loved ones from Virginia. Eddie’s brother Eric is here from Virginia Beach with his wife Christine and their children Lindsay, Matthew, and Marissa. Please know, those of you who have come so far, that you are welcome in this church and this community.
There will be a time later in this service for any who wish to do so to share memories and thoughts of Eddie, and I hope that many of us will stand up and speak. Each of these recollections is a treasure, and a treasure we do well to share.
Months have passed since Eddie’s funeral in Florida, yet no doubt a question still echoes in the heart of each of us who loved him. That question is: Why? Why did this happen to a gracious, energetic man who had so much to live for, whose life was starting to come together in new ways? Why did this happen as it did to Angela and Eddie, to Nancy, to all of us?
It is natural and normal to ask this question. That we do so testifies to the weight of our loss. It demonstrates how we wanted, how we expected Eddie to continue as our companion on life’s journey for many, many years to come.
A death like this slaps us in the face, and we want an explanation. We want to know who’s responsible, who’s to blame, who’s the bad person in the picture. We want rationality, cause and effect, a fair universe, even if we must bear the guilt ourselves. We want to figure out this loss, make sense of it, get under control what feels to us so painfully out of control. No doubt each of us here has felt this struggle inside us somewhere along this road of grief, and there may be people here who feel this terrible struggle now.
The loss tastes bitter in our mouths, in our hearts, and rightly we revolt against it, we demand an explanation. Maybe we are told that what afflicts us, this grief that has attached to it a beloved name and face, is part of the human condition, evidence of a flawed universe, a world radically incomplete. But in all this we find precious little comfort. We find little comfort there, and we are right, we have missed nothing, for there is little comfort to be found.
The good news of Jesus Christ looks at death, looks square at it and refrains from offering an explanation, or assigning responsibility, or making sense of a loss too deep for words. What happens is something better, far better. The good news of Jesus Christ, once dead on the cross, and now–this moment–alive with glory, this good news offers us the strength, the hope, the grace to live through what is before us, to walk, bloodied but unbowed, through the valley of the shadow of death, in the firm and certain hope that God has prepared for us beyond that valley a much better mountaintop, a welcome table with all who love him, where God will wipe away the tears from every face, and the people will say: “The Lord has saved us! Let’s celebrate. We waited and hoped–now our God is here.” [Isaiah 25:9 CEV] Yes, this good news of Jesus: we hear it and believe it, and it is good news now.
Picture this. It’s nighttime, and we’re gathered with many others in some great public building. The lights go out. Every last one of them. Lights outside and inside. We’re in this great public building with all these people, and suddenly it’s as though we’re deep underground in a cavern, a place so dark you can’t see the hand in front of your face. In that circumstance, I would wonder for a moment why the lights went out, the reason for it, but my real concern will be: Who’s got the flashlight?
When somebody dies, especially a young adult with every reason to love, then I will ask: Why? I will ask it more than once. But more than an answer, I need a guide, a companion, somebody with the flashlight. I want somebody who can take me to the other side of grief. Somebody who promises me the opposite shore of death because he’s been there and come back.
The Gospel announces a Father who’s no stand-off-somewhere spectator to death, someone aloof and unconcerned. When it comes to the death of another thirty-something man, a man named Jesus, God the Father sits in the front row of mourners.
The Gospel announces a Savior who makes new life available free to us because it comes at such a cost to him. This Son of God tastes death, drains it to the dregs, for the sake of us and all people.
The Gospel announces a God who knows what death is about, who knows the weight of grief, a God who suffers with us, a God who suffers for us.
So the Gospel does not bring an explanation of death, an apportionment of responsibility, but a surprise announcement of resurrection, the unexpected gift of hope. Our God never lets death have the last word–not for Jesus, not for Eddie, not for any of us who believe.
What I want to say now is intended for Angela and Eddie, though everyone else is welcome to listen.
Angela and Eddie, I speak to you not simply as your pastor, this guy who dresses up funny on Sundays, or an adult, a person with some gray hair and lots of years on him. I speak as someone who feels a special connection with you because, like you, I also lost a parent to death when I was growing up,. My mother died of cancer when I was seven. This was, as you can imagine, the defining event of my childhood.
Back then, people were generally less accepting of grief than we are today. Often a child’s grief went largely unrecognized. People simply didn’t know what to do with it. We live in a time now that seems to me more emotionally honest. I hope you feel free to express your grief to those who love you. I hope you are are able to ask for what you need from us. There are resources to help you that did not exist when I was a child. Nobody can take away your grief, but perhaps we can help you make it easier to bear as you make your way to a new place of contentment
Remember always that your father was a good man and that he loved you, indeed that he loves you still. I’m sure that, like every parent, he struggled with the best way to express his love. We parents do not come equipped with all the answers. We learn as we go along how to be a father, how to be a mother. Remember the special times with your father, especially the golden days of last summer, and recall them often in your heart as you might look at a special photograph.
Know that now your father is closer to God than he ever was before. He prays for you in a greater way than he ever could on earth. Pray for him yourselves, Angela and Eddie, pray for him during the years to come that he may continue to grow in God’s love.
Certainly there were things your father wanted to do on earth that he was not given the time to do. Yet he leaves a tremendous legacy. You, Angela and Eddie, are that legacy, a living legacy. There’s something of your father in each of you: in your appearance, in how you act, in what you say. Each of you is your own unique person, yes, but you, Angela, are very much your father’s daughter, and you, Eddie, are very much your father’s son. That resemblance, that heritage, is a blessing.
Your father had dreams and hopes for you. Like any loving parent, he wanted his children’s lives to be even better, happier, and more complete than his own. I’m sure he also had dreams and hopes for himself and looked forward to a long life.
Angela and Eddie, by the way you live your lives, by living with honor, compassion, and joy, you can realize the dreams your father had for you and even the dreams he had for himself. You are his legacy, and a wonderful legacy you are. Live your lives well.
Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping busy clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.