Charlie

Ben H. Swett
(part of a memorial service)
2 August 1998

Any funeral or memorial service is a test of our faith in two things: the nature of human beings, and the nature of God. Both aspects of his own faith are implied in this passage from Paul's letter to the Romans: "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

People throughout the ages have contemplated the power and majesty of God, and asked themselves questions like this: "With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?" The prophet Micah wrote: "He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:6-8) Remembering Charlie reminded me of this scripture. He did justice, in World War II; he loved kindness; and he walked humbly with God. And it is good to know God doesn't require burnt offerings or similar sacrifices. In fact, I believe God just wants us to brighten the corner where we are, as well as we can, and then come on home.

When Jesus said to Martha, "Your brother will rise again," she answered with a doctrine the Pharisees taught: "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." But Jesus contradicted her: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? She said, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, he who is coming into the world." (John 11:23-27) Like Martha, Charlie also made the good confession. And this scripture is part of the good news Jesus taught -- and others didn't. It assures us that we do not have to sleep in our graves until the mass resurrection at the end of time. We can rise immediately.

Some people have asked, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" Paul said what we bury is not the body which is to be. He compared it to a grain of wheat: "So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body." (First Corinthians 15:42-44) This is good news for people like Charlie and those who love him, because toward the end of his life, some of his physical systems were, as the Germans say, kaput. In other words, we don't have to worry about anything that happens to our physical bodies, before or after we die, because we leave them behind and rise in our spiritual bodies.

And then what happens to people like Charlie? Jesus said, "Let not your hearts be troubled; you believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going." (John 14: 1-4) Do we? We see the way physical life goes into the narrow gate called death, but we need to see beyond it. His disciples said Jesus came to them again three days later, and then continued to lead them thereafter. Paul said Jesus came to him on the road to Damascus, and then continued to lead him. If we believe their testimony, or the testimony of any of those who have seen Jesus, from that day to this, we can believe that he went through death, returned to prove to his disciples that life after death is real, ascended to Heaven, prepared a place for us in our Father's house, and continues to gather us up and lead us home.

Amen.