I am doing a memorial service today for a woman who was a part of our church. She died from cancer. Audrey was a dear woman who had a ready smile and always had a twinkle in her eye. She was the kind of person that brightened the room when she was there; a person whose company you were always glad to keep.
Audrey's death was no surprise. She had been battling cancer for over a year and had been losing ground for the past month. And yet, when the day comes, while you are relieved that your friend is no longer suffering, the hole left as a result of her passing is gaping and seems to dominate the landscape of your being.
Audrey sang in the choir. She sang bass - one of the few women I have known that actually could. She was tall and statuesque and sang with the love of Christ on her face. She radiated the joy of the Lord from every part of her being. She was elegant, full of class, and a true lady.
Audrey will be remembered for many things. The things I will remember the most about Audrey will be her smile, her eyes, and her gentle spirit. Audrey was one of the sweetest, kindest women I have ever known. She didn't just smile with her mouth - she smiled with her whole self. She had a twinkle in her eyes that made you feel like you had just taken a drink of cool, refreshing water. Audrey was like that until the very end. Even the last time Pastor Mike and I visited her in the hospital she had a smile for us and had that sparkle in her eyes.
Audrey loved people. I have had people who knew her tell me about how special Audrey was to them and how she always made them feel good about themselves. Audrey had a gift for making people feel special.
Audrey loved her family. It was so evident as we talked the other day how big a role family played in Audrey's life. She loved each one of you so much. Take comfort to know that you didn't lose Audrey to death. You know right where she is. And she is waiting for the day when you can all be reunited together in heaven.
And Audrey loved her Donnie. I had the privilege of officiating at Audrey and Don's wedding last May 22. Don and Audrey were both a part of the choir and, in a way, it was their gift to me to allow me the honor of marrying them on my birthday. Don, Audrey loved you very much. That was always so evident. And you were a faithful husband to her to the very end.
I am reminded today that our Lord is sympathetic to our sorrow and pain. John 11 tells us of the death of one of Jesus' friends, Lazarus.
A man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. This was the same Mary who massaged the Lord's feet with aromatic oils and then wiped them with her hair. It was her brother Lazarus who was sick. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Master, the one you love so very much is sick."
When Jesus finally got there, he found Lazarus already four days dead... many of the Jews were visiting Martha and Mary, sympathizing with them over their brother. Martha heard Jesus was coming and went out to meet him. Mary remained in the house.
Martha said, "Master, if you'd been here, my brother wouldn't have died." Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you."
Jesus said, "Your brother will be raised up."
Martha replied, "I know that he will be raised up in the resurrection at the end of time."
"You don't have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?"
"Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world."
After saying this, she went to her sister Mary and whispered in her ear, "The Teacher is here and is asking for you."
The moment she heard that, she jumped up and ran out to him. Jesus had not yet entered the town but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When her sympathizing Jewish friends saw Mary run off, they followed her, thinking she was on her way to the tomb to weep there. Mary came to where Jesus was waiting and fell at his feet, saying, "Master, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died."
When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, He was deeply moved in his spirit. He said, "Where did you put him?"
"Master, come and see," they said. Now Jesus wept.
The Jews said, "Look how deeply he loved him."
Others among them said, "Well, if he loved him so much, why didn't he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man."
Then Jesus, once more deeply moved, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, "Remove the stone."
The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, "Master, by this time there's a stench. He's been dead four days!"
Jesus looked her in the eye. "Didn't I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
Then, to the others, "Go ahead, take away the stone."
They removed the stone. Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, "Father, I'm grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I've spoken so that they might believe that you sent me."
Then he shouted, "Lazarus, come out!" And he came out, a cadaver, wrapped from head to toe, and with a kerchief over his face.
Jesus told them, "Unwrap him and let him loose."
This scripture gives us great insight and comfort in times of loss.
- It teaches us that people will always struggle with "if onlys." If only I had done more. If only I had done less. If only I had said more, or left certain things unsaid. If only I had been a better person or prayed harder or followed God better. "If onlys" are natural. However God does not want us to stay there. He wants us to have faith that the One who fashioned the universe and set the stars in place now holds Audrey in the palm of His hand where she waits for us in glory.
- It teaches us that it is OK to grieve. Jesus wept. He shed the tears of one who has had a friend taken from him by the cruel grip of death. It is natural to mourn our loss. It hurts that Audrey is gone. Nothing is going to change that. But God wants us to know today that sorrow is alright. It is natural. Tears are good. Jesus shed them, too. When we are weak, He is strong.
- Most of all, it teaches us that there is a blessed hope. Audrey put her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for her salvation and today she is in heaven. She is without sorrow. She is without pain. Her body is healed and whole. We know that, though her physical body is gone, she lives forever with God. And we know that we will be reunited with her one day to walk the streets of gold. Audrey would want us to remember today that her passing has in reality been a sleep in which she has said "goodnight" to this world and "good morning" to glory.
I am grateful to have known Audrey and look forward to meeting her again in heaven.