When my mentor, Rev. Karl Trautmann, retired, the most memorable words he spoke to me as I succeeded him were, "The best thing about retirement will be the fact that you will be burying all of my friends instead of me." He was looking forward to being able to sit with the mourners, and be numbered among the 'mutual consolation' people described in 2 Corinthians 1. Now - in my 23rd year at STL, and having been a pastor on the east-side since 1983 - I know what he meant.
In my initial years in ministry I noticed that every year I would conduct at least one funeral for a person who was younger than me. In all the years since this has not changed. In the past year, though, it has seemed as though nearly half of the funerals I have conducted were for people younger than me!
I very much feel the ache of my predecessor. Yet I know that many others, my wife included, feel it even more than I. We rejoice for our loved ones who were called home by Jesus ... yet we mourn for the loss we are experiencing.
However, through the promises and activity of our Savior, Jesus, we are enabled by his Spirit to say, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ." (2 Corinthians 1.3-5) Then he moves us forward as we say to each other, "Since we have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12.1-2)
Problems, problems, problems - they surround us on every side ... wars and rumors of war ... racial strife and terrorist threats ... death and disease and disability ... fears and failures and falsities and frailties ... The more we focus upon them, the worse we feel ... and the less functional we become. But the promise remains true. "Our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for our comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort." (2 Corinthians 1.5-7)
We may learn many things through hearing and reading. Our understanding of those things will certainly increase through discussions with others and contemplation within ourselves. But there is something about personal experience that drives the lesson home ... and "later on it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore (if we are to experience and share the peace of Christ, we are encouraged to) strengthen our tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for our feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead." (Hebrews 12.11-13)
Karl and Doris Trautmann have been in heaven for many years now. A couple Saturday's ago I stopped by their grave after a committal at Glen Eden and thanked God for them. Someday you and I, by God's grace in Christ, will be the saints who have gone before us, too. And that - or He - is all we really need to know.