Father, Into Your Hands – March 29, 2015 – Luke 23: 46 – 49

I love the show Long Island Medium. Who else watches it? Teresa Caputo has a great big personality with big blonde hair and outrageously long fake nails. She says she has a very special gift. She communicates with people who have crossed over. She is able to receive messages and visions from Spirit guided by the loved ones of those she meets.

Someone who comes to Teresa for a private reading wants closure. They are unable to cope with their loved one’s passing. They need to know that his or her loved one is at peace. The person lost someone suddenly or tragically or had to make difficult decisions related to their loved one’s death. A departed soul will want to give a message to a loved one so will step forward to announce to Teresa that they want to speak to their loved one. Teresa will communicate the message which usually absolves the person from all their guilt and settles their mind that their loved one is at peace.

Most importantly, the person going to a medium is looking for closure for themselves. When it comes to dealing with death, funerals and mediums are for our closure. We need closure in order to grieve well.

In a funeral, there is an important prayer that is most often prayed at the church or in the funeral chapel. It is called the commendation prayer. It is rooted in Jesus’ final words, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” The commendation prayer marks the end of the memorial and leads us in recognizing that our loved one is now in the eternal care of our Father. Here are some of the words I often use in a commendation prayer:

Into your hands, we commend your servant … for the care of your unfailing love and overflowing goodness. Acknowledge her as a sheep of Christ’s fold, a lamb of His flock, a sinner of His redeeming. Receive your child into your merciful arms and blessed rest in everlasting peace. May she be welcomed by the glorious company of saints into life eternal where sorrow and pain, sickness and death are no more.

My hope when officiating a funeral is to help us recognize that we can now trust our loved one to God’s eternal care. We can trust God because He is the One who gave her to us in the first place. Our loved one’s life was a gift from God given to us for period of time before being gathered into God’s eternal kingdom. Our loved one’s life belongs to God here and there. We can trust God to care for our loved one here and there. The commendation prayer allows us to prayerfully say, “Father, Into your hands, we commend our loved one.”

In our grief, we want to know that we’ve left our loved ones with words of love and care. We want our final words to the departed to have been, “I love you.” We, too, in our death want to know our last words were of love. We want to have lived always letting our friends and family know how much they mean to us. But, we don’t want an extended goodbye.

Most of us want to slip away in our sleep,
with no pain or suffering,
without a long path to death, and
no accident we have the time to brace ourselves for.

We don’t want to opportunity to say a final goodbye, because what would we say. Would “I love you” be enough?

Having met with families who have lost someone suddenly, who have lost someone who had lived a good long life, and who have lost someone after an extended illness, I think it is most difficult for someone to lose someone who they’ve had time to say goodbye to. When someone had a long fight with a terminal illness, he had the opportunity to go through all the medical interventions, make some decisions about when to fight and to die on their own terms with a quality of life. They have the opportunity to accept death and say goodbye.

On the other side, we keep hoping and praying for a miracle. We can’t say goodbye. When our loved one dies, he is not afraid, knows what lies ahead, and said what he needed to say, but we are left wanting more time, wanting to be able to say more. We don’t realize that we’ve said goodbye a thousand times and want to say goodbye one last time.

I don’t know which death I want to die. Do I want to have time to say goodbye and come to terms with the life I’ve lived or do I want something sudden without time to realize what is happening? I can tell you without doubt that I don’t want the long excruciating death Jesus died.

Jesus long suffered on the cross, but He had time to say goodbye. He spoke to God, to His family, to His disciples, and, finally, to God again last. His final words were words I think someone says when they have accepted death and are ready to breath their last breath. Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit. And, He breathed His last breath.

In the Bible, life begins when God breathed into the nostrils of the man in the garden and Jesus’ life ends with His final breath. Before His last breath, Jesus said, “I trust this to you.” He gave God the final word on His life. Jesus’ words were more than just I trust myself to your everlasting care. His words were I trust you to have the final word. If we dare to look from the cross a few days ahead, we know what God’s final word about Jesus was. God’s final word was the resurrection. God took the death of His Son and defeated the grave. That is God’s final word – resurrection.

I have often heard prayer described as the act of taking our burdens to the altar of God, laying them down and trusting them to God to take care of. The problem with us is we often take our burdens to the altar, lay them on the altar, tell God about them, pick them up and take them with us when we leave. We are unable to commit our burdens to God. We are unable to say, “Father, into your hands, I commend all that concerns me.”

I want us to try to commend a concern to God. I’ve given each of you index cards. I want you to write a concern on your card that you want to trust to God’s care. Your concern may be for a loved one or for yourself. Write the words, “Father, into your hands, I commend…” When you’re finished, I’d like you to place it face down in the baskets I’m passing.

This week, when you remember this concern, I want you to remember that you’ve already given it to God and shared it with me. I won’t know who wrote down what, but I’ll keep all these confidential. I’m going to pray about your concerns. I’m going to pray that you are able to let God take care of it and pray for God to work it out. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. You don’t have to carry it around. You don’t have to try to figure out a solution. You just have to trust that God’s final word on the matter will be resurrection.

Our pews will be crowded next Sunday, because we want assurance of the resurrection. We want to be reminded that God’s final word concerning sin and death is resurrection. That assurance will carry many through ‘til next Easter or the next funeral.
We need reminders throughout life that God works in mysterious ways to make all things new for the good of those who believe.

As we’ve stood at the foot of the cross listening to Jesus’ final words over these Sundays of Lent, we’ve all along known that we will come to next week when God will respond to Jesus’ final words. Jesus said, “Father, into your hands, I commend my Spirit.” And, God said resurrection.

May it too be with the concern you’ve commended to God.

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