Reading: John 14.1-6
These are the words that came to me late Friday night as I visited Owen and Jan. Joyce's battle with cancer was over. The body through which she had so effectively loved and served her Lord, her family and other people lay lifeless in the bed. "She's gone!" The words slip from our lips so easily. But yes! She is gone! No casket can hold her! No pain can afflict her! Why? - because the victory is won!
The friends of Jesus were worried and upset. Dark clouds of opposition were gathering. Somehow they seemed to pin their hopes on Jesus revealing himself in a dazzling display of super-human power and routing all his enemies. But that didn't seem to be Jesus' way - and it looked increasingly as if that mightn't happen anyway. What if God let him down, and his death was the end of it?
So Jesus told them, "Don't be worried and upset. Believe in God and believe also in me." In all that is happening, I am doing something for you. So put your trust in me. "There are many rooms in my Father's house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so." The purpose of his death was to open the door of heaven for you and for me. As Peter put it later, "Christ himself carried our sins in his body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness" (1 Pet. 2.24). "And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am." There is sadness and loss in the death of a fellow-Christian, but, as someone said to me the other day, "We know where she's gone." True to his promise, the Lord has come back and taken her to himself, so that she will be where he is.
We have loved Joyce and wanted her with us still. We were sure the kindest and most loving thing God could do for her was to restore her health. We would have liked that, and the Lord does heal people for a time. But eventually he gathers them to himself - which is far better for them.
Joyce had a deep commitment to healing ministry and God has blessed that ministry in many ways. But the healings God gives in this life are only partial and are a foretaste of heaven - a little glimpse into that perfect state where there is no more pain and suffering, no more tears and sadness. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but he died later. Jesus healed lepers, the lame, the blind, the deaf… but the grace of eternal life didn't preserve them physically. Neither the touch of the Lord nor the modern medical wonder-drugs keep us physically alive forever.
But the victory has been won! In the cry of dereliction - "My God, my God, why did you abandon me?" (Matt. 27.46) - Jesus the Son of God was experiencing to the full the alienation of human sin. But the Father hadn't let him down. The devil thought that at last the battle was over. But Jesus' final words, "It is finished!" heralded that he had won the victory!
The Lord hasn't let Joyce down - and Joyce has now fully entered into the reality of that victory.
Thomas was uncertain about how to get to where Jesus was going. Jesus answered him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me."
The Lord Jesus who has gathered Joyce up into his loving presence calls to each one of us to put our trust in him. Receive him as your Saviour and Lord. He will never let you down.
© Peter J. Blackburn, Funeral of Joyce, 17 November 1999
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.