On Monday many millions of people across the world watched the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey. They listened as three passages from the Bible were read. They were each favourite funeral passages, because they each speak of the Christian hope of eternal life.
Let’s just look at the first reading, which was taken from two parts of 1 Corinthians 15. We’ll see what it means, how it’s relevant to each of us and what comfort we can gain from it.
Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death (verses 20-26).
We read in the Bible in Genesis 3 how Adam and Eve disobeyed God (sinned), with the result that death came into the world. All their descendants are sinful, dying people. Jesus Christ was God’s Son, but he was also a descendant of Adam and Eve through Mary his mother. So, he inherited her human nature and therefore had the ability to sin and was mortal. But he never did sin. When he died it was temporary, and God raised him from the dead. What we are told is that the same will happen to his true followers – they will be raised from the dead just as he was. This will happen ‘at his coming’, when he returns to the earth and sets up his Kingdom. Then death will be destroyed, and those who have faithfully followed him will live for ever.
This wonderful message is expanded in the second part of 1 Corinthians 15 that was read:
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord (vs. 53-58).
Funerals are always a sad time as we say goodbye to loved ones, and our thoughts are with all those who mourn at the moment. But these verses demonstrate that for followers of Jesus – ‘they that are Christ’s’ – death is just another stage of life. Death is referred to as ‘sleep’. The faithful will wake up to the prospect of eternal life in a perfect world, by God’s grace.