Preaching My Grandfather’s Funeral

with 2 comments

My grandfather, Joseph A. Keywood, died this past Thursday morning in the VA nursing home in Jackson, MS. He was 86 years old and had been struggling with Alzheimer’s for the last 10 years.  He was faithfully married to my grandmother Betty for 57 years, reared one girl and three boys, served in the local church for around 40 years, and loved to garden and sing hymns.  Here’s a link to his obituary.

I was given the honor of preaching his funeral on this morning at First Baptist Church, Hazlehurst, MS.  It was sobering, humbling, and difficult.  I tried my best to make the manuscript more readable.  You can read it below:

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.” 1 Corinthians 15:21

It is often said to those mourning the loss of a loved one that “death is just a natural part of life.”  But really, normalizing a tragedy in order to desensitize us to it does not make alleviate the pain.  It serves as an anesthetic, but it doesn’t do surgery.  It doesn’t reach the heart.  Death is as much a part of life as poison is a part of a family dinner.  It is okay to be shaken and weep.  We are face-to-face with a very old, very consistent, impartial enemy, that whispers to us with every aching bone.  We’ve been reintroduced to him up close and personal this last week with the passing of my grandfather Joseph A. Keywood, and many of us, myself included, are unsettled by his presence, though we tend to hide it with smiles and politeness.

In Genesis 1-2, we are given a picture of the world that is very different from what we are seeing today.  God speaks into nothing and life appears everywhere.  He forms all that we see, touch, smell, taste, and hear.  God forms the complex makeup of man out of dirt and breathes life into him; and woman from the man’s rib and breathes life into her.  He makes them in his own image and commands them to fill the earth and create a joyful community of praise to God rather than to themselves, because God knows that it is life-giving to give glory to Him.  He creates that first couple to live in an unbroken relationship with Him.  God looks on a living world and sees it so good is because it accords with who God is.  God loves life, because in Him is life in its fullness.  All life flows from the Living God.  God speaks and flowers bloom.  He speaks, and eggs hatch.  He speaks, and babies are born.  This means that our lives only have meaning, fullness, purpose, existence, in so much as we find ourselves in Him.

A tragic turn happens when Adam and Eve doubt God’s goodness and desire to be like God by trying to run their own lives.  They disobey His word, thinking that it would bring freedom, but really this act of rebellion yanks the root out of the only soil that can nourish them.  Their relationship with God was broken.  The world buckles as they reject God.  Sin is introduced into the world, and it has not been the same since.  In perfect justice, God sentences Adam and his posterity to a very sad ending: “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Not only spiritual death, but physical death resulted.  The continuation of humanity is an unbroken string of pain and sorrow.  This curse spreads into every part of the human person, and into every part of human history.  Adam and Eve are our parents, and we agree wholeheartedly with their actions daily through the things that we should do but don’t, and the things that we shouldn’t do but do instead, so that the results of their sin, death included, is our own.  It is a great tragedy.  We fall, and death results.  Yet, God does not abandon us, but even then had already begun His work of salvation through a long history of lives ending in funerals—all significant, but one ultimately significant.

Many generations after that first sin, a man named Jesus’ body hangs lifeless as two men wrap him in cloths, preparing him for a traditional burial.  His mother looks at the ground with tears in her eyes, recalling the day when she swaddled him and placed him in a manger in Bethlehem.  She and Joseph had taught him to walk, talk, cook, greet strangers, and bathe properly.  She had seen him boldly proclaim uncanny understanding of God’s law in the temple—always challenging us to remember that our external actions mean nothing if our hearts are cold towards God.  He hungered in a desert and feasted with society’s rejects, mourned at the death of his friend Lazarus and rejoiced at the birth of his brothers James and Salome; he laughed at jokes and played with children; he probably smashed his finger with a hammer when woodworking with his dad; he faced temptation and was victorious over it every time.  Perfect in heart, word, thought, deed—a sinless man.  He lived life in its fullness.  Jesus’ close friend John recorded these things about him:

      • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” John 1:1,4.
      • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
      • “[He is] the bread of life.” John 6:35
      • “[He is] the resurrection and the life.”
      • “[He has] the words of eternal life.” John 6:68
      • “Whoever believes in [Jesus], out of his heart will flow living water.” John 7:38

The same Jesus also said on several occasions that he would be handed over to the authorities, executed, and rise three days later (Matt 16:21-23, etc.).  These promises seem like a distant daydream when you’re going to apply spices to make your deceased loved one’s body smell better, like the two women did on the third day after he was buried (Mark 16:1).  We know this story.  Was Jesus there?  He was gone.  The tomb was empty.  Jesus fulfilled His promises by breaking through the funeral veil and rolling away the stone.

God the Son stepped into this mundane cycle of birth, life, and death and experienced the full extent of it.  Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death that we should have died.  He bore the curse on our behalf to bring us to God, eradicating the hostility that began in Genesis.  He was killed, wrapped up, buried, and resurrected, so that by faith in who He is and what He has done, we can be joined with Him, triumphing over the grave, and brought to God.

When a person puts their trust in Jesus, they die with Jesus, go through Jesus’ funeral, and are raised from the dead with Jesus.  They die to their old sinful desires and wants, and live to what God wants.  This is why the apostle Paul says,

I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

The same Bible that says, “Take up your cross daily and follow me,” (Matt 16:24) says this also,

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would not longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus”  (Rom 6:5-11).

When you die with and are raised with Christ, and live in that reality, no grave can contain you, because you are born again as a new creation.  Your sins have been paid for.  This is why we say today, “Where, O death, is your sting?  Where, O grave, is your victory?”  By trusting Jesus for your salvation, you are seated with Christ and made more than a conqueror.  Death is your servant, because Jesus made it His servant.

Indeed, we are at a funeral now, but there is coming a day when what happens spiritually will be manifest for the world to see.  At the blast of a trumpet, in the twinkling of an eye, the dead in Christ will rise, and we will be changed. Even though Joe Keywood bears Adam’s image in his casket right now, on that day, he will bear the image of the resurrected Christ.  This will be no hummed hymn from a man with Alzheimer’s, but a shout  rejoicing in God’s finished work.  This will be no slow shuffle, but a dance with perfect grace.  There will be no aspirated pneumonia, but feasting with the living Christ and all of God’s people.  And there will be no uncontrollable agitation, but unceasing joy in God.

The body of a Christian is put in the ground in dishonor but is raised in honor.  It is put in the ground in weakness but is raised in power.  Christ destroyed the enemy called Death.  We look forward in a real, solid hope grounded in the real, historic events of Jesus’ death and resurrection that one day, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4).  This is the only hope we have in life and in death.  You don’t have to paint on a smile—true comfort is only found in these realities.  Jesus has confronted death and rose victorious.  Do we trust ourselves to be able to do the same?  Where do we stand?  We are but a powerless vapor.  You are looking at death, but you are offered full, unfading life.  Death is more powerful than you, but it is not more powerful than Jesus.  Thanks be to God, for giving hope beyond the grave.


Written by keywoodblog

March 13, 2012 at 2:30 am

2 Responses

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  1. Beautiful and such a great testimony !!!

    Judy Wilson

    March 14, 2012 at 12:05 am

  2. awesome……he would be so proud… you

    sandra cliburn

    March 17, 2012 at 4:20 am

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