My Uncle Hoy went home to be with the Lord last Thursday, April 7, 2005 (click here to read his obituary in the Dallas Morning News). It was very difficult for our family to say goodbye to him now, as we will greatly miss him. The following is the eulogy that I gave at his funeral service last Sunday. My prayer is that the hope of the resurrection will sustain all of us and help us to face life and death with courage.
EULOGY FOR HOY DICKERSON
April 10, 2005
What do you say on an occasion like this? It’s always best at a time like this to do two things: to remember the deceased and to remember the Gospel.
I have my own remembrances of Uncle Hoy that I can tell. There are many stories. I have always loved Uncle Hoy’s sense of humor and impeccably timed practical jokes. I love the many ways that Uncle Hoy has found to torture my dad over the years. I will miss how he always liked to sneak up behind Dad and “goose” him. Even after all these years, Dad never got used to it. He would jump out of his skin every time Uncle Hoy got him.
The ultimate practical joke happened years ago when we lived in Fort Worth. Dad was connecting the gas line to the oven, and he lit a match and was passing it by the line to check for leaks. Just as dad held up the match to the line, Uncle Hoy snuck up and hit the side of oven as hard as he could. Dad nearly lost his lunch on that one. He also nearly threw Uncle Hoy through the window.
So we need to remember Uncle Hoy. But we also need to remember the Gospel. How do we speak the Gospel in a way that offers real comfort and hope and that does not sound like shallow, wishful thinking? How do we address our grief with the Gospel in a way that rings true with the way God made us?
I think we find ourselves caught between two temptations. There will be a temptation to paper over the very real grief with a sort of “praise God anyhow” kind of an attitude. The idea that Christians don’t cry because they have Jesus. Really spiritual people don’t let anything get to them. No matter what happens, no matter how profound the loss, if you’re really spiritual you will just put a plastic smile on your face, pretend like nothing’s wrong, and “praise God anyhow.”
The other temptation will be to let your emotions overrun you. It may seem that the love that you still feel for Uncle Hoy, the memories of your life with him, and the bitterness of having to say goodbye for now; it will seem that all of these things conspire against you to drag you to a dark place. So there can be the temptation to despair as the emotions run over you.
Yet you know and I know that neither one of these responses really rings true. On the one hand, the “praise God anyhow” response just seems to ignore the fact that you really did love Hoy and that it hurts to say goodbye. Just as we cannot pretend that the flame doesn’t hurt when we put our hand in the fire, we cannot pretend that it doesn’t make our hearts ache to see Uncle Hoy go. On the other hand, losing ourselves in a bottomless pit of despair won’t do either. So as we find ourselves tempted on the one hand to succumb to overwhelming grief and on the other hand to ignore it with a pretend “praise God anyhow” attitude, we desperately need a word from God to make a beginning of putting our broken hearts back together again.
And I want to say to you today that God gives us that. God’s word for us today is from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
God tells us that we need to do two things according to this text. We need to grieve, and we need to have hope.
WE NEED TO GRIEVE (1 Thess 4:13a)
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13a).
Notice that it does not say, “Don’t grieve.” It just says, “Don’t grieve as if you have no hope.” In other words, there is a way to grieve and a way not to grieve. God is not telling us not to grieve. On the contrary He is telling us how to grieve. Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that it’s wrong to cry. We need to cry.
In John 11:35 when Jesus learned of Lazarus’ death, the scripture says very plainly that “Jesus wept.” So if we want to be like Jesus in our loss, we have to cry. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” This is a command. So we need to grieve. We need to have many tears.
But God tells us that He does not want our grieving to consist of tears only. He wants our grieving to be filled with hope. So . . .
WE NEED TO HAVE HOPE (1 Thess 4:13b-16)
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13b).
Don’t grieve “as do the rest,” means don’t grieve “as non-Christians” grieve. When they grieve, they have no hope. No expectation that anything good lies beyond the grave. When the non-Christian grieves his tears are bitter because there is nothing more to come. It truly is the last goodbye. But we don’t grieve that way. When the tears flow and the anguish of loss is at its worst, we still have the promises of the Gospel. God comes to you now in your grief, and He’s saying to you, “Remember the Gospel. It’s not over now, and it never will be. There is more to come.”
Because “14 if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
Paul addresses a group of Christians who had placed their faith in crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus. They had received the gospel at a time when it cost them dearly to believe. But they endured the persecution because they believed the word that Jesus had been risen from the grave and that he would come back again for his people. They had become discouraged because in spite of all their faith, the Lord chose to delay His coming, and the Thessalonian Christians were watching their brothers and sisters die. They were grieving because they thought their loved ones had missed it.
Paul’s response is just a reminder of the Gospel. “Just as Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will resurrect from the dead those believers who die before Jesus comes back.”
Therefore, the way to address your tears is to believe that there is more to come:
“15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words”(1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).
I say to you, Aunt Judy, on the authority of the word of God, as surely as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, that there is more to come. You will have him back. You will have him back and then some. 1 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.”
Jesus Christ went into a grave dead, and He walked out alive. His physical body was remade perfect and whole. Uncle Hoy will indeed get up out of the grave with his body remade perfect, whole, and complete. You will see him again with your own eyes in the resurrection, just as you will see Jesus with your own eyes. And it will be better then than it ever has been here. And thus you shall always be with the Lord.
Where is Uncle Hoy now? Jesus is seated at the right hand of God right now (Eph 1:20; Col 3:1), and all of those who have fallen asleep in Jesus are with him right now. This is why the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that he prefers “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
But even though Paul preferred to die and to be with Christ (Phil 1:23), he knew that there was more to come at the resurrection. Being apart from the body and at home with the Lord is not how he thinks he will always be. Because he says that he knows “14 that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus . . . 16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:14, 16-18).
So right now, Uncle Hoy is with Jesus, in paradise, no tears, no pain, only joy increasing forever. And he knows now what you should know too. There is more to come.