[If he had lived beyond the couple days of his short life, Finnegan Harrison would have celebrated his sixteenth birthday this week. Sylvia Keesmaat and I accompanied his parents, Matt and Lydia down that desperately dark valley sixteen years ago today. Then I led the committal service when we laid that baby in his grave. This sermon from 2014 revisited that awful day and connected it to Jesus at the tomb of his dear friend, Lazarus. I offer the sermon today in memory of Finn, and in love of his parents.]
With one strong thrust the shovel blade was driven into the ground.
Matt took Lydia’s hand and they walked away from the grave.
We had born witness that day to a mother and a father in grief.
And in grief and anger Matt had taken the shovel and filled in the grave
of his son Finnegan.
Finn had only lived a couple of days.
Sylvia and I were with Matt and Lydia when the MRI report came in.
Finn had no brain activity.
And we sat vigil outside the hospital room door waiting for the moment of death.
The wailing that came through that door told us when that moment came.
Somehow Matt and Lydia knew that we were there,
and after a little while Matt came out and asked us if we would get him a razor.
He was going to shave his head.
Wailing, tears, anger, a shaved head.
These are all responses to death.
that cut through the denial,
the cover up,
the funeral home sanitization,
the sentimental avoidance
of our culture.
Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus,
he came to a tomb surrounded by tears and wailing
and he was angry in spirit and greatly agitated.
Most modern translations will have him
“disturbed in spirit and deeply moved,”
but that is likely too tame.
Jesus is angry, torn up inside, profoundly upset.
No wonder that when he comes to the tomb
John tells us simply and plainly,
And when it comes time for resurrection,
when it comes time for Jesus to make good on his promise
that he is the resurrection and the life,
he shouts loudly,
“Lazarus, come out!”
I don’t think this shouting is because he is worried that the dead man won’t hear him.
The shouting comes with the anger, the wailing, the tears.
The problem with our cultural funeral practices
is that they are too tame.
They seek to keep the emotions in check,
avoid too much display,
bury the grief,
deny the anger.
And our Christian funeral practices are often worse.
Not only do we follow the same cultural practices of control and cover up,
we end up providing a sentimental legitimacy to the cover up.
It is called ‘heaven.’
We don’t really need to be too sad that little Finnegan is no longer with us,
because, you see, he is with his heavenly Father now.
Apart from the fact that such piety
provides little comfort to a grieving
earthly father and mother,
it also ends up providing a hope
that is not up to the task of confronting death.
Death is a bodily thing.
Lazarus will be stinking with the rot of decomposition after four days.
Finnegan’s little body is lifeless in that tiny coffin,
now buried under feet of dirt.
Lydia’s breasts are drying from milk not suckled.
Matt’s arms are free to wield a shovel
because they are not cradling his son.
And if death is a bodily thing,
a matter of deep and painful physical loss,
then not only must our response to death be bodily
– in tears, sobs, shaved heads and thrusting shovels –
so do we need a bodily hope in the face of death.
Christian funerals are preoccupied with heaven
when the good news is resurrection.
“Lazarus, come out!”
“Finnegan, come out!”
“Hannah, come out!”
“Josiah, come out!”
“Marky, come out!”
“Andrew, come out!”
“Joanna, come out!”
“Mark, come out!”
“Bud, come out!”
“Adam, come out!”
“Iggy, come out!”
“Ramsey, come out!”
“James, come out!”
“Chris, come out.”
Anger, tears and resurrection.
That’s what it is all about.
Anything less is a cover up,
and cheapens death in its sentimentality.