One of the ministries that I exercise as a parish priests is to preside and preach at funerals—never an easy task. The deep truths of our faith which can be so consoling at other times often don’t when death is still raw. The pain is too all-absorbing for the words of faith to break through and do much in the way of real consolation. Their full effect will take place in a way and time that respects the rhythm of human grief that each one of us will endure; within each one of you who are trying now to endure.
For you who have lost a dear loved one during these past twelve months, I invite you tonight to consider the very gentle and very safe embrace of God that we have so deeply prayed for since the death of your love. Nothing can be more consoling than to believe that our loved one is now in far safer and gentler hands than our own.
But is this mere wishful thinking? Is it whistling in the dark to keep up our courage? Is it somehow fudging God’s justice to console ourselves?
Not if Jesus can be believed! Everything that Jesus reveals about God assures us that God’s hands are much gentler and safer than our own. God is the Father of the prodigal son and, as we see in that parable, God is more understanding and more compassionate to us than we are to ourselves.
We see in that parable how God does not wait for us to return and apologize when we stray and betray. No, God runs out to meet us and doesn’t demand an apology. We see in the stories just preceding the prodigal son’s how God does not leave us on our own after we sin, to come to our own senses and return, repentant, to Him. Rather, He leaves the 99 others and comes looking for us—anxious, longing, and ready to carry us home, in spite of our sin.
Jesus gives us the assurance that God does not give us just one chance, but “77 times seven” chances. We don’t ruin our lives forever by making a mistake, or even by making that mistake inexcusably again and again.
Yes, we are, in this life and the next, in hands far safer and gentler than our own.
- God is not a God who records our sins, but a God who washes them away.
- God is not a God who demands perfection from us, but a God who asks for a contrite heart when we can’t measure up.
- God is not a God who gives us only one chance, but a God who gives us infinite chances.
- God is not a God who is calculating, who parses out His gifts, but a prodigal God who sows seeds everywhere without regard for waste or worthiness.
- God is not a God who is powerless before evil and death, but a God who can raise dead bodies to life and redeem what is evil and hopeless.
- God is not a God who is arbitrary and fickle, but a God who is utterly reliable in His promise and goodness.
- God is not a God who is dumb and unable to deal with our complexity, but a God who fashioned the depth of the universe and the deepest recesses of the human soul.
- Ultimately, God is not a God who cannot protect us, but rather, God is a God in whose hands and in whose promise we are far safer than when we rely upon ourselves.