Last night, we drove back from Florence, Alabama, after the funeral of a very good friend, Terry Austin. Terry died, very unexpectedly, on Saturday in a Birmingham hospital. While news of his death was a surprise, he had struggled with many health issues after several surgeries within the past six months.
Terry and Cindy are wonderful friends and have been a special part of our lives for many years. When you are laughing with a friend or enjoying a meal together, you never think of one day doing that friend’s funeral. Or at least, I never had those thoughts. Yet, at 11:00 AM on Tuesday morning in the church where Terry grew up, I sat with a church full of sad, stunned people who had come to his funeral.
When I stood to speak, I experienced the same feelings I have experienced many times at funerals — only this time it was much more intense. There is something about looking at a family at a funeral that leaves me feeling so helpless. The father in me wants to hug the children who are mourning and somehow make it all go away. I want to look a grieving wife (or husband) in the eye and tell her that this horrible situation can be fixed and that this nightmare will be over. Yet, those are not realities. So, I stand there feeling helpless and feeling the grief of having lost a very good friend.
The only encouraging word I know to speak on a day like this is a Gospel word — to be reminded that Jesus has tasted the ultimate death for us so that the final word about our existence is not a funeral word but a Gospel word. In the middle of our helplessness, there is a word from God that there will come a day when we will be reunited with family, friends, and others who throughout the ages have experienced the sweet mercy of Jesus and who have found their identity in him.
Now that is a word of hope.