The title of this note is "Funny the Way it Is". Now if you are a Dave Matthews fan you may recognize that as the title of a song off their most recent album Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. It is a song about the highs and lows that can occur simultaneously throughout life. It was the first thing that came to my mind tonight as I was pondering today's events.
Historically in the Church November 1st has been set aside as All Saints Day. This is a day to commemorate all of the saints who have gone before us. Now when we talk about saints we're not talking about those select few who have gone through the multi-year process to be officially recognized by the Pope as being "worthy" to be called a saint. Instead we are talking about all of God's redeemed people who have been saved by Christ's death on the cross and adopted as children of God through the washing of Holy Baptism. God's redeeming work makes us all saints.
"Funny the way it is" that on this day where we commemorate those who have gone before us, the appointed Psalm for All Saints Day is Psalm 150 (ESV) which reads:
1 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! 2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! 3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! 4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
Now that seems like a strange choice for a day that is used to remember our loved ones who have died in the faith. It definitely wasn't what I was expecting. It seemed even more odd considering that late this afternoon I received a phone call from my dad telling me that my Grandpa Schlund had died suddenly just moments before. Now Grandpa had been moved into hospice care so his death was not completely unexpected, however the doctor had given him about 6 months to live so we weren't expecting it quite this soon. He had just celebrated a birthday last week and I had spoken to him on the phone and told him that my brother Andy and I were planning on joining him and the family for Thanksgiving in a few weeks. He sounded really good and was really excited that Andy and I were coming to visit.
As I read the Psalm tonight, I thought, "That's a whole lot of praising that the Psalmist tells us to do which comes at a time where praise may not be the first thing on my mind" -- the world definitely wouldn't expect a whole lot of praise in this situation. But then I thought of all of the things that we had to praise God for today and every day. We can praise him that Grandpa didn't have to suffer to the point of death, we can praise him for sending his son Jesus into the world to redeem the world, we can praise him for adopting each of us, Grandpa included, into his family and claiming us through baptism, we can praise him for the impact that Grandpa had on many other people around him, and we can praise God for the countless blessings that he bestows on us each and every day.
Now on a day like today which is set up to remember the Saints who have gone before us we must be careful that our focus remains in the right place. Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us about the "great cloud of witnesses" that surrounds us, but goes on to remind us to continue "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our Faith". It is not the witnesses that God has placed around us that we should exalt and praise but the one to whom they witness -- Jesus himself. While Grandpa was a great witness of the faith that he had, our hope and our comfort doesn't come from him being a witness. No, our hope and comfort comes from the source of grandpa's faith and the one he was witnessing about -- Jesus Christ. Without Christ's suffering and death on the cross in full atonement for our sins and his subsequent resurrection from the dead where he overcame sin, death and the power of the devil, we would have no hope, but thanks be to God that he overcame all of that and secured for us life eternally with Him in Heaven.
Finally, we must remember Paul's words in 1 Thessalonians 4 that remind us how the Christian mourns at the death of a loved one -- not as one who has no hope, but as those who celebrate the joy of the resurrection and cling to the hope of everlasting life!
1 Thessalonians 4:13-20 (ESV)
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
"Funny the way it is" that we have much to praise the Lord about on this seemingly sad and mournful day, just like the Psalmist said we would!