This is excerpted from a funeral homily that I actually did preach. I have taken out names and pronouns and any other personal references that might identify the person or the family. References to the funeral service are to my own Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer (BCP), also online here. A homily (i.e., sermon) is hardly ever an occasion for a lecture on process theism, especially if the occasion is one of deep loss. But it can be an occasion to draw upon the insights of process theism in nontechnical language. That’s what I tried to do here.

John 11:21-27

Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” We’ve heard that twice now in this service—once at the beginning, and then later in the Gospel reading.

In the Gospel lesson Jesus is about to perform one of the most spectacular miracles ever attributed to him—calling Lazarus out of his tomb days after his death.

But even though he’s about to do something you don’t see every day, something many would dismiss as legendary, Jesus wants to open Martha’s eyes, and our eyes, to something we might miss. Martha talks about the resurrection that she believes will happen later. Jesus says that this isn’t about what happens later, not even about what he’s about to do. It’s about right now.

In this lesson Jesus speaks to Martha, and to us, not just as a man who had an intimate relationship with God, but as the very voice of God taking flesh among us. God is with us now. God is now our resurrection. God is now our everlasting life. “I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord” (BCP, p. 491).

He’s telling us that, because we live every moment of our lives in the living presence of God, nothing that passes is ever really lost. What passes may grow dimmer and dimmer for us, but never for God. Our prayers speak of “those whom we love but see no longer” (BCP, p. 498). But those whom God loves God sees forever, vividly, including the way they saw themselves, but even more vividly and more intimately than that. And this is immeasurably more than a fond memory, because what God sees, God enlivens. What God sees remains a living presence in the endless life of God. “Those whom we love but see no longer” are still with us, because they are still enlivened in the all-enlivening life of God, and God is with us.

“For none of us has life in himself, and none becomes his own master when he dies. For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord. So, then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession” (BCP, p. 491).

That’s what Jesus invites us to see. It’s what he saw vividly.

But remember that, even though he saw Lazarus’ entire life embraced already in the very arms of God, he still wept. Even when we are convinced that, with God, those whom we love but see no longer are still somehow with us, we know we don’t get to have them back the way they used to be. Yes, we’re told that Mary and Martha got Lazarus back the way he used to be for a while, but even that was only temporary.

There’s a finality, a final passing, not only in death but in every living moment. We never get anything back the way it used to be. How can we not grieve that? And the death of a loved one remains one of our most painful reminders of how everything passes—everything. Jesus experienced that too. He wept. God wept in and through him. This is the perfect occasion to grieve, knowing that God, who weeps, is no stranger to any of this.

N will be missed. It’s always appropriate to miss those whom we love but see no longer. Tears over N’s passing today, tomorrow or ten years from now are a way to say, “We love you.” Laughter at N’s eccentricities is another way to say that, today, tomorrow or ten years from now. Even exasperation over N’s human failings—everybody has some—is a way to honor the powerful connection between N’s life and yours.

Jesus says God embraces all of this, embraces all that we are, conflicted or not. Remember that today and in the coming days, and let yourself feel whatever you feel. Nothing is out of order. And if you begin to sense how all of this is forever embraced, in some way or other, you begin to know something of the presence of God, whether you use that word or not.

God’s all-enlivening life is with us now. Now is N’s resurrection—and ours. Now is N’s everlasting life—and ours. 

“I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.” Amen.