I've made it gender neutral and taken out references to the person whose funeral it was for and simply post it as encouragement from 1 Corinthians 13 for a time of grief.
We are more used to what is known as the Love chapter in 1 Corinthians being read at the celebrating of a wedding not as we contemplate a funeral. As Inspiration for the start of relationships, not a way of providing comfort as we say farewell. They are words that give Lessons for life, not so much to lessen our sorrow. But you know I think this scripture is so fitting and powerful for this occasion.
Firstly, as we come to celebrate a, a much loved and loving person’s life, a child, a spouse, parent and grandparent, a friend and person of faith that it encapsulates the values and the virtues we cherish and will remember most.
In context Paul was speaking of gifts and talents that God had given to his body, the church for the common good, to serve and build one another up. And as we gather we look back and see the gifts and talents and achievements a person has had, and what they have contributed, as God has enabled them, in their own sphere and context. Beyond that as Paul says we remember a more excellent way… the way of love, the best of the character of a person….the characteristics Paul calls love.
The passage speaks of the highest attributes of love… Patience and kindness; commitment and loyalty shown in practical caring. Forgiveness: committed to a relationship even in the midst of hurt and when we get it wrong. Seeking truth: wanting what is best and good for the other person, humility and selfless service; putting the other first. Never failing; being committed to the very end; a love Paula gave and which he also received in return. The qualities of love that find their origin in the Love of God, shown in Jesus Christ.
Secondly, these are the characteristics of love that in times of grief, in the face of the harshness of life and sorrow bring comfort. What helps us get through it is to know that we are loved and surrounded by people, a community, who care and will be there for us. Who support us by kindness, a willingness to forgive and give space on days when we just don’t have it all together, to speak truth when we find ourselves unable to work through the process in a healthy manner. When we just need a hug or someone to be there and listen to that same story again.
But they are also words of comfort because they are a description of Jesus and of his great love for us. The love and abiding presence of Christ that we can know in our own lives… Jesus who said and Low I am with you to the end of the age… who invites us to cast our burdens on him because he cares for us. Who said blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.
My father died when I was 21 and as palangi we didn’t really have the rich traditions of culture and family to surround and embrace us and help us in our grief. Us Pakeha tend to leave a grieving family to their own devices. But three friends came the night after he had died. They sat down and one of them said “ we are here for you Howard. If you want to be alone we will go and leave you. If you just want to sit and be quite we will sit with you, if you want to talk we will listen, if you want to do something we’ll go with you. In their love, there willing to be present with me not only did I feel friendship and experience the quality of love Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 13, I caught a glimpse of Christ’s presence and Christ’s comfort and love for me. The same love that is present as this community and family gather night by night.
Finally this passage is relevant to us because of the hope it brings. Paul moves on from speaking about the qualities of love to talk of the passing nature of knowledge and prophecy, which were things the Corinthians wrongly valued above the gospel, and as he talks of them passing away he begins to speak of a time when instead of seeing like a reflection in a mirror that we will see face to face, and while we know in part now there will be a time when we shall know as completely as we are known. He is looking at the Christian hope, that the love of God shown in Jesus Christ, his life his death and his resurrection, mean that those who believe in him will find eternal life with him. Will be with Christ, as Jesus said in John chapter 14 “ I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come back for you and you will be where I am”. In 1 Corinthians chapter 15 Paul will move on from looking at gifts and talents and love to speak of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He will say that we have assurance that we too will be raised to life in Christ, because Jesus rose from the dead. That we have confidence in that fact because Jesus was seen by many witnesses, he ate with them and was touched by them, and because of that we too can have confidence that we will be raised to eternal life with Christ, as Christ had said. Paul sums it up by quoting the book of Hosea “Where o death is your victory, where O death is your sting” and finishes by affirming we have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The hope is that the love of God, from which the list of qualities we value in each other in our reading today comes from. The Love of God, that we experience in the love of family and friends and in Christian fellowship. The love of God shown in Jesus Christ, his life death and resurrection, is a love that invites us into relationship with the eternal God, through Jesus Christ, a relationship that goes beyond the grave to eternity. It is a love that in death gives us assurance that we will be with Jesus Christ in a place of no more decay or death. It is the love we to can know as we come to put our trust in Jesus Christ.