We gather today to remember the life of Katie Lou Harris Hancock, a devoted wife, honored mother, and beloved grandmother. We come to commit her into the care of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whom she loved and served. We know that in the final years of her life, she suffered from the effects of Alzheimer’s, but even so we recall Paul’s words to the Corinthian church in his second letter. “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16-18, NIV)
The Christian hope has always been rooted in the belief in the resurrection of the dead. This hope grows out of the teaching and life of Jesus Christ himself. When Jesus’ friend was dead and in the tomb, Jesus stated to Lazarus’ sister Martha, “Your Brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will never die.” (John 11: 23-26, NIV; emphasis mine)
What did Jesus mean that those who believe in him would never die? It could not mean physical death, for we know from the story of Jesus that he himself died on the cross and was buried in a tomb. But that wasn’t the end of the story. We also know that God raised him from the dead, that he could not stay dead. So we find in the Revelation that Jesus proclaims, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last. I am the living one; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades [the grave].” (1:17b-18, NIV) Because Jesus holds the keys to the grave, we can have confidence that this is not the last word in the story of Katie Lou Hancock. She will live again.
Now, in the story of Lazarus, Jesus—who had just emphasized that he was the foundation for the resurrection of the body in which Christians hope—did an interesting thing before ultimately raising his friend Lazarus from the grave. John’s gospel says, “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” (John 11:35-36, NIV) So it is ok for us today to mourn the loss of Katie Lou Hancock. Jesus himself wept at the impact of death, how it cuts us off from those we love. He wept even though it was a momentary separation—for he raised Lazarus back to life soon after. Therefore, it is ok to grieve, to cry, but Paul told the Thessalonians in his first letter to them that Christians are not
to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those [like Katie] who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and will the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And we will be with the Lord forever.
And then Paul says, “Therefore, encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thess 4:13-18, NIV; emphasis mine) These were words of encouragement. Those who believe in Christ will be with Katie again, when the dead are raised and Christ brings his eternal kingdom in all of its fullness. John had a vision of this kingdom in the Revelation,
I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . . . I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:1-4, NIV)
On that day, Katie will look full into the eyes of Bluefford, her children, and her grandchildren, and know each one by name. It is this belief in the resurrection of the dead that allows Christians to say death has no sting or victory over us (cf. 1 Cor 15:55), for when Christ appears, Katie—along with all Christians both dead and living—“shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2, NIV) It was always Katie’s hope that each one of you would be part of that great day, would know Jesus Christ as your Lord and your Savior. If you do not know Jesus in this way, I would be happy to speak to you later about this.
Now there have always been those who questioned this belief Christians have in the resurrection. Paul addressed these questions in his first letter to the Corinthians: “But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own kind of body. . . .
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural [soulish] body, it is raised a spiritual body.
“If there is a natural [soulish] body, there is also a spiritual body. . . . The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. . . . And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (1 Cor 15:35-38, 42-44, 47, 49, NIV)
The famous preacher D. L. Moody once noted many people call this passage in 1 Corinthians 15 the “burial service.” But, Moody argued, “I think it is an unfortunate expression. Paul never talked of ‘burial.’ He said the body was sown in corruption, sown in weakness, sown in dishonor, sown a natural body. If I bury a bushel of wheat, I never expect to see it again, but if I sow it, I expect results. Thank God, our friends are not buried; they are only sown!” (Great Sermons on the Resurrection, p. 61)
So, for now, we do not bury Katie Lou Hancock as we might put away something that has served its purpose. We do not even bury her as we might hide away a great treasure we seek to protect. Instead, we sow her into the ground this day, knowing that one day the Lord Jesus Christ will raise her from the dead. As John said in his first letter, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 Jn 5:11-12, NIV)