Funeral Sermon – Frank Holt – Isaiah 61:1-3 – Comfort For Those Who Mourn – 1/24/14

We first met Frank when Vesta brought him to church with her back in 2006. That’s when they began dating. Once things got ‘serious,’ Vesta made it perfectly clear that if this was going to go any further, he was going to come to church with her. That’s just the kind of gal Vesta is.

I suspect that initially, Frank came along just to please Vesta. He was a ‘regular’ in both Bible Study and Worship. Sometimes in Bible study, I had the feeling that I had lost him along the way. But then, after class, he’d ask a question, and it was like, ‘yea, he really gets it.’

It didn’t take very long at all before Frank became a member of the family here. Everyone liked him. Especially the children. It took me awhile to figure out why the children would come up to him after worship was over. Then one day I saw him slip a peace of candy to Callum, and I understood.

Frank was always ready for a game of Cribbage after worship during fellowship. He would always say that it was just a matter of the way the cards fell, but they seemed to consistently fall in his favor. Isn’t that right Don?

Many of you have known Frank much longer than we have, and after the service, downstairs in the Fellowship Hall, we’d love to hear your stories and share in your memories.

Speaking on behalf of the congregation, we all loved your father, your grandfather, your friend, your husband very much. He was a part of our family and we all share in your loss and we will miss all him.

But frankly, our loss is Frank’s gain. For as St. Paul said, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil.1:21). That may sound a bit strange to call ‘death,’ ‘gain.’ But the Christian Church as been saying lots of strange things for a long time. In fact, no one ever spoke such strange things than our Lord, Jesus Christ. “I am the resurrection and the life.” “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25). To say that through faith in Jesus Christ, dying is not really dying, but is really living, is a strange thing to say.

When Jesus claims to be the “Resurrection and the life,” He is pointing to His death, because there is no such thing as ‘resurrection from the dead’ apart from death. Christ died. And Frank Holt died with Him – first in his baptism at age 6 or 7 where He was “baptized into Christ’s death and buried with Christ” (Rom.6:3); and then Frank died again, at age 85 when he breathed his last in the hospital right along with Jesus who breathed His last on the cross at Golgatha.

On Friday, in the Upper Room, Jesus took His disciples into His death as He gave them His body saying, “Take and eat,” and His blood saying, “take and drink.” As they ate and drank this holy meal, they were united to His death on the cross for them – for the forgiveness of all of their sins.

On Friday, in his hospital room at Eastern Maine Medical Center, Frank took the same body of Christ as the disciples received the Upper Room. “Frank, take and eat – this is the body of Christ – given FOR YOU.” And he ate. “Frank, take and drink – this is the blood of Christ, shed FOR YOU.” And he drank. And just as had every Sunday for 7 years at this altar – he was united to the death of Christ on the cross – FOR HIM.

But if that were all that there was to say, it would still be a very sad day for us today. If the DEATH of Jesus and the DEATH of Frank was the end of the story, then this sermon is really nothing more than an extended obituary, and we have nothing STRANGE to say. As St. Paul puts it, “If Christ had not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… and we are to be pitied more than all people.” Or as we hear it put so often these days, ‘when you’re dead your dead. There’s nothing else.’

But we have something very strange to say because our SAYING is informed by our BELIEVING. And our BELIVING is very often CONTRARY to our SEEING. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor. 15:14,20).

Now, we have something very strange to say. “Just as Christ was RAISED FROM THE DEAD by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in NEWNESS OF LIFE.

“Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Frank was already raised with Christ when he was baptized at age 6 or 7. But for 78 or 79 years, his walk in the ‘NEWNESS OF LIFE,’ that only Jesus Christ can give, was mingled with sin and sadness and pain and suffering.

The struggle between the ‘newness of life’ and the ‘oldness of death’ was a daily struggle for Frank. JUST AS IT IS FOR EVERY BAPTIZED CHILD OF GOD. As St. Paul put it, “the good that I will to do I do not and the evil that I hate, that is what I do. What a wretched man that I am.” (Rom. 7:24).

This is the war that every believer wages against sin every day. And it is a war that we LOOSE every day.

Our hope is not in ourselves. Our hope is not that I may eventually stand tall and be strong and resist the temptation win the victory and overcome the sin that is in me.

Our hope and faith is that Jesus Christ already has resisted the temptation, and He has remained strong, and HE has won the victory FOR ME, ON MY BEHALF, IN MY PLACE – and I have been united to Him – baptized into His death and His resurrection from the dead.

“Thy works not mine, O Christ, speak gladness to this heart; they tell me all is done, they bid my fear depart.”

On January 12, 2015, the battle THAT WE DAILY FIGHT ended for Frank. When he breathed his last, the struggle with sin and sadness, pain and suffering was over. He was raised with Christ. “The old has passed away, the new has come.” A new day dawned.

 The Passover Lamb has been slain and His blood marks THIS SAINT, and sin and death have no dominion over him.

 God has led His Israel safely through the Red Sea and drown the enemy. And from the ‘distant shore’ their song is heard, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

 The Son of David has slain the giant Goliath by the five wounds in His hands and feet and side. And He holds the giant’s head high in the air, and “proclaims liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”

 The One greater than Jonah has been swallowed up by death only to be vomited up again, because death had no hold on Him… and all those who belong to Him are swallowed up in His everlasting life.

 The Christ who once was slain has burst his three day prison – and all the prisoners of death are set free.

 The Good Shepherd has snatched His precious little lamb from the jaws of the wolf from hell by giving Himself as RANSOM. But on the 3rd day, the wolf had to spit Him out because he couldn’t stomach Him. And all of Jesus’ little lambs are safe and secure in the arms of the One who loves them and who laid down His life for them.

 The darkness of death is shattered by the light of the glory of God streaming out from His empty tomb. And all who have died in this one, true faith, now live in this eternal light in which there is no darkness.

“Thy righteousness, O Christ, alone can cover me;
No righteousness avails save that which is of Thee.”

His body is still here. It is right here in this urn. And later, it will be reverently buried in the ground where it will sleep. It has been through enough. It is time for rest.

Yet Christ, by His cross has redeemed even the physical body. This is why God became FLESH, to atone even for our physical body – because it too is HIS, for HE CREATED IT and He made it His Temple and dwelled in it.

And so, we have something strange to say about Frank’s body. Even as his soul is WITH THE LORD even as we speak, Jesus will come again and raise his mortal body and unite it to his soul. What we by our sin have rent asunder, God, by the body and blood of Christ, will wash, and sanctify and glorify and join together, never to be separated again.

From their prophetic watchtower, the prophets see that day that is still to come. Isaiah declares, “Your dead shall live; THEIR BODIES shall also rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” (Is.26:19). Ezekiel declares, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will open your graves, O my people. And you shall know that I am the Lord your God when I open your graves and raise you from your graves.” (Ez.37:13)

So, even those who have gone before us in faith,
who even NOW are free from all captivity to sin and death,
who even NOW enjoy a joy and a peace that we who are still in this world have never known and cannot comprehend,
there is even more joy that is yet to come,
when their particular body is reunited to their particular soul,
the perfect union of perfect body and perfect soul,
just as God created man in the beginning.

“Thy death not mine, O Christ, has paid the ransom due;
Ten thousand deaths like mine would have been all too few.”

So today, we mourn our loss, but we celebrate Frank’s gain.

While he was still in this world, already anticipating his place in the eternal praise of God in heaven, Frank requested that we join with him in singing, “How Great Thou Art.”

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