Sermon notes from the funeral of my father, Vladimir Bobosh.
“You only are immortal who has created and fashioned man. For out of the earth were we mortals made and unto the same earth we will return again, As You commanded when You made me, saying to me for you are dust and unto dust you will return.”
(Funeral hymn of the Orthodox Church)
The funeral service of the Orthodox Church calls to mind all of time: the past, the present and the future. The present moment we see in the body of the deceased laying in the church. It is the time we live in – a world of mortality, a world which is passing away. This present moment is made understandable by the past. The past, the ancestral sin of Adam and Eve which leads to death, is present also in the one lying at rest in the church. That story is retold in the life of each of us who walks on earth.
And the future is present as well in the person who has fallen asleep and who awaits with us the reawakening when the Lord calls at the end of time in the general resurrection. Each of our lives occurs in this present world between that past of Eve and Adam and the future of the Kingdom to come. It is all one story, and we each find meaning to our experience in this one story.
In Genesis 1, each human is created in God’s image and likeness. The idea present is what we find in ancient kingdoms, where images/statues of the emperor were placed throughout the empire even to its far corners. These images reminded all of the extent of the empire and that all are subjects to the emperor. So too idols were placed throughout a land to remind the people of the presence of the gods that ruled them.
We humans were created by God in His image, placed on earth to be reminders of His presence wherever we happened to be. We were there to secure the dominion of God over all the earth. We were to remind all things of the Lordship of the Creator.
But, when we see one lying in the casket or in the grave, returning to the dust from which he was created, we know something has gone wrong. The power of that kingdom is being denied, the lordship of God is challenged. His images are no longer honored nor is the One in whose image we are made. We have failed to be the sign of God’s presence on earth, we have not been the living reminders of God’s lordship for we rebelled against the Giver of life, only to be returned to the dust from which we are made.
However, the whole story is not that we are dust. We are more than dust. The whole story includes that image of God in each of us. The story includes the future in which God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5), not all new things. God heals and restores that which is lost and broken.
We were created by God to be signs of His presence and His ambassadors- His evangelists – to the world. Our presence everywhere in the world was meant to remind all creation that we lived in God’s world, as members of His Kingdom. We were created to bring God’s dominion to the entire earth – not merely as signs of His presence but of ourselves having such dominion over creation.
We lost that position and in doing so brought death to ourselves, returning ourselves to the dust of the earth.
God, however, has not forgotten or forsaken us. His love for us was not diminished by our failings. Rather in sending His Son into the world, He restored in humanity His own image and likeness, so that we might once again have that role which He gave to us from the beginning. He made humanity once again to be the signs of God’s presence on earth. He restores us, even when fallen, to be fully human.
In a funeral, in the casket the dead are returning to the dust from which we were taken.
That however is not the whole story of who we were, are or are to be. We proclaim the good news that God still wants us to be His ambassadors on earth, to be the signs of His presence for all creation. We await that time in which God will call us again back to life, with His image clearly revealed in us. And we each in that day will do what we always should have done: bear witness to the goodness of God and to His Kingdom which knows no end.
Today we humbly acknowledge the past and the present. We also proclaim the defeat of death and life in the world to come.
O God of spirits, and of all flesh, You have trampled death and made the devil powerless, and have given life to Your world. May You, Yourself, Lord, give rest to the soul of Your servant Vladimir, who has fallen asleep, in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment, a place of repose; where all suffering, sorrow, and sighing have fled away.
(Prayer from the Funeral Service of the Orthodox Church)