Graveside Service Homily
Justice Drake Sumpter
What does a father feel about a son? What does a father feel when his son accomplishes great things? I think we would generally say that a father feels pride, a deep gratitude and joy. A son bears a likeness to his father, and when a father delights in his son, he is giving thanks for his own likeness and yet in a new and different way. There’s a deep pleasure in being given something, someone who is both like and unlike you. There is of course an oppressive way of living vicariously through children. There is a way of forcing your story upon another that is insecure and ungracious. But it seems to me that this is the twisting of something fundamentally good. God actually intended us to live in our children, to share their joys, their pains, their victories, their defeats. And it’s in that shared story, receiving both the likeness and the unlikeness, the similarities and the differences that creates that pride, that joy, that pleasure.
But what of a life cut short? What does a father feel about a son who has only just begun? I only had a couple of days between when I found out that my son had died and when I met him in person. I didn’t really have time to think too much about it. But when I met him, when I held him in my arms, when I saw his perfectly formed limbs, his fingers and toes, and his lifeless body, what rushed upon me was that same pride. And I wondered, how could I feel such a pride, such a warmth of joy in the midst of such profound disappointment and sorrow.
There is, I think, something profoundly right about this. When we read this passage about the baptism of Jesus, God the Father announces that He is very pleased with His Son. Was the Father pleased with Jesus when He was fifteen years old? Was He pleased with Jesus when He was a toddler? Was the Father pleased with His Son while He was still in Mary’s womb? He hadn’t really accomplished anything great yet. He hadn’t begun his preaching and healing, and He certainly hadn’t yet gone to the cross. And yet here even before all of that, God is beaming with pride, with pleasure, with joy in His Son. For a father to feel pride, to feel pleasure in his son is at the most fundamental level a reflection of the eternal love of the Father for the Son in the Spirit. For a father to be proud of his son is a reflection of the Trinity in whose image we are all made. We were made to delight in others, to rejoice in others, to love others. We were made for community.
And yet as I bury my son today, I think I am also proud of him because he has accomplished something great. It’s common to speak of death as a loss, and because of sin and the curse, there is something right about that. Death was not the way God intended the world in the beginning. Death was the judgment. Death was the sentence for our crimes. And so now all must die. But now Jesus has changed the course of human history. He has changed it so fundamentally that even life and death have been transfigured, completely redefined.
If the end is just nothing, if the end is oblivion, if the end is just death, then death is always loss, always a kind of defeat. But in the death of Christ, death itself was broken from the inside. Because when Jesus died, He took all our sin, all our crimes, all our evil upon Himself. And when He had satisfied the justice of God, when the punishment due to us had been full paid by Him, then Jesus rose up victorious over death. The sting of death was sin, but when sin has been fully paid for, there is no more sting. The sting is gone, and now death is swallowed up in victory. Death is still hard. It is like a long journey, like going into the wilderness. But it isn’t a loss. It isn’t the end. It isn’t defeat. Now, for all those who know Jesus, death is a great adventure, a new beginning. For when we die, we go down into death armed with the Spirit of the well-beloved Son, the Son back from the dead, who holds the power of unending life. For those who believe in Jesus, though we die, yet we shall live.
So in this way my son has gone ahead of me, and he has already accomplished more than me, has faced greater peril, greater darkness, has suffered and overcome more than me. And I think as I sat in that hospital room holding my son’s body, and as I bury him today, this is why I cannot help but feel pride. This is my son in whom I am very pleased. One day, sooner or later, there will be a great reunion when all the saints will rise in triumph, when this field will rumble and crack open with bodies raised to unending life, when what we proclaim by faith will be realized before our very eyes, and then all justice will be accomplished, all that has been bent and twisted will be put right, and then we will meet my son and all who have gone ahead: fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children, and all the saints. And we will see their crowns of glory.
When God the Father spoke and told the world that He was very pleased with His Son, it was at the beginning of the Son’s ministry when He had not yet even really begun. But it was the Father’s pleasure that poured out His Spirit, and it was that pleasure that drove Him to His mission, that drove Him into the wilderness, and to the cross, and finally drove Him out of the grave and home to His Father again. May that same pleasure rest upon us today, and may that same Spirit come upon us and drive all of us to accomplish our mission of bringing the life of Jesus, the grace of Jesus, the forgiveness of Jesus, the gospel of the well-beloved Son to the world.