a funeral homily
Since I never met Jeff, and all of you gathered here knew him well, I find myself in the awkward position of being the only person in the room who didn’t know him, and also the one doing all the talking. What I do know about Jeff is that he died at the young age of fifty-seven of early-onset dementia, so I wanted to take a few minutes to direct our minds to the Word of God and ponder with you the subject of forgetting.
Forgetting is almost always a really bad thing. Jeff was plagued by a disease that made him forget, and no doubt you as his family and friends know how difficult and painful it was to watch him endure that. His disease made his life harder, and it probably made your life a lot harder too. It’s very tragic when a man forgets who people he loves are, or forgets where he is, or how to do things he used to do so very well. One of the very important things we are doing today is “remembering” Jeff; we’re making an unspoken commitment to never forget him, to keep his memory close at hand.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t forget things. It’s frustrating to forget – and it’s painful to be forgotten, especially if you’re forgotten by someone you love. Forgetfulness is one of the nasty results of living in a really broken world.
Of course sometimes in the humdrum of life we can forget God, and one of the things that can accompany the death of someone we love is this reawakened sense of the importance of God, because we’re faced with something we can’t fix – only God can fix death. The greatest doctors in the world couldn’t fix the disease that took Jeff’s life, much less bring him back to life. It’s natural then to look to God in moments like these, even if for a long time we’ve forgotten about Him.
One of the ways God comforts his people is to remind them that He doesn’t forget. You know this as well as I do and may be feeling it right now: when life is really hard, it’s easy to wonder if God has forgotten us. God lets us endure some really, really hard stuff, and it quite naturally seems like He’d show up and save us from it, since it’s easy enough for Him, so in these really dark moments we might wonder if He just forgot us.
So God likes to remind his people that he doesn’t forget. Listen to what He says in Isaiah 49,
“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?”
My wife and I have had six children, and I’ve never had to remind her to feed them or take care of them. She’s never once said, “Oh goodness, it’s suppertime and I’ve forgotten the baby in the crib all day!” Mothers have this amazing ability to never forget to take care of their kids. And God says he’s even better than that:
“Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”
Do you, like me, have that friend whose hands are always full of notes? That’s a good way to remember stuff, because you can lose a piece of paper, but your hands are always with you. God says He has engraved the names of his children on the palms of his hands – this isn’t like writing in ink which might wash or wear off, this is like carving the names in – it’s permanent! God won’t forget.
But there is a downside to not forgetting, isn’t there? Have you ever had a little squabble with your spouse and they remind you of that thing you did years ago? And you say, “Oh you had to bring that up again! Can’t you just forget about that?” In that light, forgetting isn’t such a bad thing, and perhaps we could all use a little more of it.
It’s great that God never forgets. But it’s also bad that God doesn’t forget stuff, because there’s a lot about me that I would rather God not remember! In fact, one of the things that we often do at a memorial service is to acknowledge that there’s things about a person that we’re committed to forgetting. But God is God, and how could God forget the ways in which every one of us have failed to love God and love our neighbor, have ignored God’s laws and said we’re just going do to it our own way?
This is a pretty serious dilemma. There is great comfort in the fact that God never forgets, but of course there’s a downside to it as well, because all of us are guilty of stuff that it would be way better if God forgot.
So here’s the Biblical solution: The second person of the Godhead became a man, Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus did nothing wrong, nothing he wished would be forgotten. Ever. And he went to the cross, and as he hung there dying, God the Father poured out on Jesus all His good and proper anger against your sin and mine, until that wrath was completely exhausted. And everyone who runs to take shelter in Jesus’ death will find mercy, and become children of God.
Here’s what that mercy looks like: it looks like God forgetting the sins of His children.
“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25
It’s really good news that God deliberately refuse to remember the sins of His children. By faith in Christ Jesus we have the blotting out, the forgetting of sins. And that kind of forgetting is a really, really good thing for us.
As you remember Jeff, and all the things about him that made him so dear to you, and the unique things God made him that set him apart from every other person in the world, and as you commit to not forgetting him, and seek to comfort each other in his loss, let’s also comfort ourselves in the great truth that it’s impossible for God to forget His children. And we can also take great comfort that in His grace and mercy He will make us His children and forget our sins if we run to Him and away from them.
This is my simple encouragement to you: Don’t forget God in these moments; He won’t forget you. Be comforted that if you trust in Him, He will forget your sins. And someday, after we have all long since joined Jeff in returning to the dust of the ground, God will remember His children, He will speak their names, and breathe new and unending life into them so they may enjoy His presence forever. This is our hope: a God who never forgets, and a God who won’t remember.