What you want to hear is why. Our God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer; our God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving. Why does a child of God – so kind and giving, so loved, so needed – why did this child of God suffer so terribly and die so young leaving this precious family? We just don’t understand, and I don’t have that answer.
But, Joel understands all of this now; and, one day we too, like Joel, will understand, fully, we will understand all that is God. This is the true source of our peace, even when our hearts are so very broken. There is peace in the acceptance that one day we will understand.
Certainly, Joel’s earthly presence is absent; but, mostly, Joel’s earthly absence is so present. That absence will be so very present for so very long.
Some will say, “It is God’s will.” Others will say, “All things happen for a reason.” True, perhaps, but those thoughts are not always very helpful in grief. Many of us will say less than helpful things in our desperate attempt to bring comfort. Better, I believe, to acknowledge that God’s Good reigns over all – that there is no tragedy or evil – no hardship or grief that is not overcome by the power of God’s healing grace – no sadness that is not assuaged by the goodness of God, which is love. In every human condition, there is love; there is good.
Kelly, Sierra, and Gage, Sharon and Bob, in this, your deepest grief, you are lifted and carried by the goodness of God expressed in the loving community that surrounds you. Total strangers weep with you – This is the Goodness of God’s love that, in God’s time, overcomes all grief. This is the goodness that will bring strength at the times you struggle to breathe. This is the Good News – the reality – the peace that allows us to celebrate Joel’s life and legacy, even though our hearts are heavy.
Our message is the Resurrection message; our host who makes this celebration possible is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The ultimate Goodness of God came to earth in the human person of Jesus Christ who was born as Joel was born, who loved and lived on earth as Joel loved and lived on earth, who suffered as Joel suffered, who died much too young as Joel died much too young. Our Lord came to earth to live and die as one of us; our Lord willingly took our sins into himself; our Lord patiently and willingly died and descended to hell infested by our sins. There, our Lord destroyed sin and death forever and rose victorious from the grave – all for us, each one of us, with no partiality. Jesus Christ rose victorious from the grave that we might not die but have everlasting life.
Our greatest fear is our earthly death, and even more so, the earthly death of those we love. Yet, our Lord assures us we need not fear death; our Lord is victorious over death. Joel now resides in that everlasting victory over death; Joel runs free of suffering where “mourning and crying and pain are no more,” [Revelation 21:4] as revealed to us in the Revelation to John, which we heard earlier. Joel would want us to hear this Resurrection message on this occasion and carry with us this message of resurrection as we grieve the presence of his absence. He would affirm the words of Jesus, as recorded for us in John’s Gospel, “anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” [John 5:24] The key, Jesus says, is simply to believe.
Joel was patient and gracious in his earthly suffering. I did not know Joel before he had become critically ill and was recovering from his radical surgery. Yet, I remember being impressed on that first visit in the hospital by the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit. I knew on that day that whether Joel lived or died he would live out his earthly life in the awareness of God’s healing grace, which he so readily embraced.
Do not go from here believing that Joel was not healed. True, his physical body – the temporary vessel of his soul – was not healed of its infirmity; but all was and all is well with his soul. Joel knew he was healed by the Holy Spirit; In baptism, he was sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Joel knew this. I believe he knew that we are not promised physical healing, but we are promised spiritual healing if only we will embrace the healing power of God’s love. If only we believe. Joel embraced this healing power. Joel was healed unconditionally.
Ideally, God’s unconditional love is never more visible and realistic to us than in the unconditional love of our earthly fathers. Fathers bear an enormous responsibility – a responsibility that is very difficult for anyone else to fill.
It is said that our image of God creates us. As children, the adults in our lives are earthly gods to us, especially our fathers. Whether good or bad, our image of our heavenly Father is formed by the image of our earthly fathers, and our image of God, our heavenly Father, creates us.
Joel leaves these precious children much too young, much too soon, but he leaves them with the incredible gift of the understanding of a father’s unconditional love – he leaves them with the image of God’s unconditional love for his children, and this image of God will shape their lives in incredible ways. Joel left much too soon, but he left this incredible gift.
Fathers, mothers, parents, teachers, all adults, as you celebrate Joel’s life, as you grieve his absence, carry this image of God’s unconditional love; carry the awareness that we form the image of God in the eyes of our children.
Sierra and Gage, your father could not have loved you more and, truthfully, there is nothing you could have done that would have caused him to love you any less. That is the gift of our heavenly Father sent down to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, and passed on to you by your earthly father. Your father lives forever in this gift of unconditional love.
St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Chesapeake, VA