Lynn, a widow in her sixties, had a rare genetic condition – CREST – that had caused the loss of several fingers from each hand. During her brief stay in our town she had recently discovered our church. Having given her life to Christ in her youth in a Baptist church she felt immediately welcomed among us. Now we were holding her memorial service, which we marked with two simple words that had characterised her final three months of earthly life. And those words are still significant since she left us. In fact, they mean even more now.
The first is HOME.
During her stay in hospital, on those rare occasions when she did manage to speak to me – usually in a whisper without her dentures – she would say, ‘I want to go home.’ She meant ‘home’ spelt with a small aitch – her lovely flat in sheltered accommodation full of Elvis memorabilia – and he was raised as a Southern Baptist in USA! Well, God heard her heart cry, but he corrected the spelling by using a capital H for the place that Jesus had gone to prepare for us his followers.
Here are four verses from The Passion Translation – a beautiful modern version of the New Testament that our house group, who used to meet at Lynn’s flat every Wednesday morning, gave her for her last birthday.
2 Corinthians 5:6-9
‘[Here’s] why we’re always full of courage. Even while we’re at home in the body, we’re homesick to be with the Master – for we live by faith, not by what we see with our eyes. We live with a joyful confidence, yet at the same time we take delight in the thought of leaving our bodies behind to be at home with the Lord. So whether we live or die we make it our life’s passion to live our lives pleasing to him.’
Yes, Lynn is now ‘at home’.
The second word is ASLEEP.
I was one of several who visited Lynn regularly during those final few months, and more often than not I’d find her asleep. If she did wake up before I left, she usually asked me to pass her a glass of diet coke and a straw!
The apostle Paul used an interesting phrase in 1 Corinthians 15:18 that describes Lynn’s present situation: ‘those who have fallen asleep in Christ.’
When we are asleep overnight, and in my case often also in a chair during the daytime TV news bulletins, we are often with someone somewhere else in our dreams. This afternoon Lynn’s disfigured mortal body has turned to ashes. But she is nowadays with Someone else (capital S) and Elsewhere than earth from where we still carry on our lives. Lynn was not afraid of physical death, for her faith was in Jesus as her Lord and Saviour. He said of himself: ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’
These are his words to a twelve-year-old girl who had passed away. This is Luke’s account, also in The Passion Translation (Luke 8:51-55).
‘When they arrived at the house, Jesus allowed only Peter, John and [James] – along with the child’s parents – to go inside. Jesus told those left outside, who were sobbing and wailing with grief, “Stop crying. She is not dead; she’s just asleep and must be awakened.” They laughed at him, knowing for certain that she had died. Jesus approached the body, took the girl by the hand, and called out with a loud voice, “My sleeping child, awake! Rise up!” Instantly her spirit returned to her body and she stood up.’
Now the Greek word that Luke used for ‘stood up’ gives us the female name Anastasia. It means ‘to cause to stand’. Dead bodies can only lie down. But at Jesus’ return, Lynn will stand up when she hears him say, ‘Wake up, my sleeping child! Arise!’
Lynn is ‘at home’ with the Lord. That’s why we are not dressed in black. And to you and me she’s asleep. We miss her, of course. But we celebrate not only her present release, but also her current bliss, and her future hope.
As Scripture bids us: Let’s ‘comfort one another with these words’ (1 Thessalonians 4:18 King James Version).
Hugh Thompson, Tuesday 16th July 2019
(Memorial Service for Lynn Gamble at Milton Baptist Church, Weston-super-Mare)