On Saturday, I officiated the funeral of Lyndsey Beth Hargis who died too young at the age of 30. Leukemia was the culprit. A woman who couldn't be there asked me if I'd post my comments from the funeral. You will find them below. I opened with a welcome. The obituary, music, and a beautiful tribute from her fiance Carter Harrington followed. We ended the service with my sermon and a benediction.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:1-3).
Lyndsey had written these verses on a card and tucked it in her Bible. She knew she was up against, and she knew who was in the fight with her. Maybe that’s why in spite of the battle, she didn’t seem to live with a troubled heart. These verses are good for us today because her sudden death feels like trouble. Lyndsey Beth was in remission so far as we knew. She had some issues, but things looked promising. And then the ER and the ICU and a major tailspin and sudden, unexpected death.
The apostle Paul called death “the last enemy.” Anyone who has lived for very long knows that sometimes death comes as a friend. It brings relief and release and peace—the long-term hospice patient living on a morphine drip, in and out of consciousness, mostly out; the once vibrant old man now confined to a death bed positioned by a window, constrained to watch life instead of live it. Sometimes death comes like a friend.
But not when a young woman is in the prime of life, enjoying life, serving others, looking forward to her wedding day. Death doesn’t wear party clothes and show up in a welcome wagon to persons like Lyndsey; he comes shrouded in a black hoodie with a sickle in his hand to reap a too early harvest. Death separates loved ones, steals joy and peace for a season, and leaves the hard work of grief in its wake. Death is the last enemy.
But it is a defeated enemy. Jesus took on death and the sin that brought it into the world. He took on death by dying—by dying on the cross for our sins. And though death took him for a while, death could not keep him. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead and victor over sin and death and the grave. A victor who shares the spoils of his victory with those who know and love him. He shares the spoils of victory today with Lyndsey Beth. In anticipation of his victory over death, Jesus stood at the tomb of his friend Lazarus who was four-days-dead. Jesus said to Lazarus’ sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. He that lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” he asked Martha. Do you believe this? Because of Lyndsey Beth’s faith in Jesus, we know she is alive and well with him today. Absent from the body, she is present with the Lord. And that gives us comfort as we come to mourn her death, to celebrate her life, and to worship God.
Let’s pray: Father, as we do this hard thing today, we give thanks that we do not do this alone. We are surrounded by friends who shared a common love for Lyndsey, and even more, you are with us. While we would have chosen for Lyndsey life instead of death, healing in this world instead of heaven just yet, we give thanks that we let her go into better hands than ours. Meet us in these moments and give us strength made perfect in our weakness, grace sufficient for our needs, and your peace that passes understanding. In the name of Jesus, the resurrection and the life, we pray … amen.
Some years ago, I stumbled across some words shared at the funeral of a military chaplain who died of cancer. What was said at his funeral can be said at Lyndsey Beth’s today …
Cancer is so limited …
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the Spirit.
It cannot lessen the power of the resurrection.
Cancer cannot do any of that and did not do any of that to Lyndsey. Don’t think for a minute that cancer won here. Cancer did not win this battle. Lyndsey Beth won. Life won. Her cancer is dead and gone forever. Lyndsey Beth is alive and well forever. Cancer did not win here.
And though she battled cancer these last many months, cancer did not define Lyndsey Beth’s life. Her life was defined by the way she lived it. Her life was defined by her passions, by her heart.
She was a young woman who didn’t stand passively on the sidewalk and watch the parade of life pass by, she was in the parade, dancing to the music, and enjoying every minute of it.
She was a young woman who was full of spit and vinegar, spunk and splash, bold, at times uncomfortably unfiltered in her remarks, a woman with heart who acted and spoke from her heart without always passing it through her brain. Her fiancé Carter’s Aunt Cathy is a bold person herself, but even Cathy admitted, “Not many people can put me in my place, but Lyndsey could.” She was full of spit and vinegar all right.
She was a young woman with a heart for the stray and the underdog, a heart for people on the margins, people the rest of us either look down on or ignore. She’s been this way since she was a kid—befriending the odd duck, the poor kid, the forgotten. Some of her popular friends sometimes gave her the business for it. Didn’t bother Lyndsey. She had a heart for the underdog. Her mom usually took Lyndsey to school and drove her home. Lyndsey didn’t have to ride the school bus often, but when she did, it wasn’t uncommon for her to come home and tell her mom that she saw where so-and-so lived and knew they were poor and needed help. So after dark, Lynn and Lyndsey would sneak by the house and leave some needed things in a carport, on a porch. Lyndsey wouldn’t dream of embarrassing that kid or drawing attention to her troubles. But she had to do something. She had a heart for the stray and the underdog.
She had a heart for work. Like her parents, Lyndsey had a strong work ethic. And it’s no surprise to anyone who knew her that she chose an occupation that is people and service centered. A math teacher once told me, “I don’t teach math; I teach students.” She wanted me to know she wasn’t so much about the subject as the student. Lyndsey didn’t just style hair, she served people. She was attached to her clients, and they were attached to her. She knew more about them than hair color or style or the kind of make-up they preferred. She knew them by name, she knew particular things about them. What made her so good at what she did and what kept her clients so loyal to her was not her magic with a pair of scissors, it was her knack for loving people, for making them feel valued. for seeing beyond a haircut and a tip to the person. Her clients cared about her too. When I saw her at the hospital, it wasn’t unusual for one of her clients to have been there to see her. Lyndsey had a heart for work and the people she served through work.
She had a grateful heart. She was quick to express thanks to the people in her life. Cancer didn’t change that. She thanked the docs, the nurses, even the people who drew her blood. Her phlebotomists didn’t get the gratitude: “You’re thanking me for sticking a needle in your arm?” She was thankful for everyone helping her fight this battle. And she appreciated every visit and every prayer. Cancer didn’t change that.
Cancer really didn’t change anything about her. Sure, when she got the news of her acute leukemia, she faced her initial fears. Normal, human. But she didn’t live there. She got through the “why me?” stage quickly. And she was the same person with cancer that she was in her health: concerned more for others than herself, grateful for every blessing in the midst of her sickness. If cancer changed her in any way, it accelerated her love for the Lord and grew her to new depths in her relationship with him.
Lyndsey Beth knew and loved Jesus. I’ve known her since she was a first-grader. I watched her grow up. Baptized her when she was about ten years old. She’s loved Jesus since she was a little girl. Her mom remembers when she took 4-year-old Lyndsey with her to get Lynn’s mamaw out of a bad situation. Lynn was stewing over what to do next with her mamaw. She was dissolved in tears, and Lyndsey leaned from the back seat and said to her mom, “Why don’t you pray about it?” Lyndsey has always known about Jesus, knew he was the one to turn to in your troubles.
She grew up in a family and a church where she heard the gospel—that she is more sinful than she dared believe and more loved than she dared hope. She heard the gospel—that she was a sinner who needed saving and only Jesus could save her from her sin. Jesus could save her because in love Jesus left the glories of heaven to come to earth as the God-Man, live a sinless life, know us from the inside out, and then bear our sin in his body on the cross so that we might be forgiven and saved. Jesus died for our sin, killing its penalty and power over all who believe. And then Jesus rose from the dead in complete victory. Lindsey heard the gospel and believed it. She turned from as much of her sin as she understood and put her trust in Jesus to save her. And Jesus saved her.
Lyndsey walked with Jesus. She had a season like many do where she strayed a bit from her faith. But she didn’t stray too long or too far. And through her cancer, she grew to love Jesus more and more. Then, at the end of her life on this earth, Lyndsey was no more passive in her death than she was in her life. The veil between this world in the next is thinner than we realize, and Lyndsey caught a glimpse of Jesus coming for her and literally reached up her hands when she saw him coming.
She knew who to reach to in life and in death. Do you know who to reach to? If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, he’s the only one who can save you. Good deeds can’t save you. A moral life can’t save you. Only Jesus can save you from your sin, and he wants to save you. He loves you. He died for you. He rose for you. He stands ready to save you if you’ll turn from your known sin and put your trust in him. Lyndsey would want you to know that, and if God used her death to help you find life, well, praise the Lord who takes the worst brokenness we can know and make something beautiful out of it.
And the Lord has healed Lyndsey’s cancer with the healing from which she’ll never be sick again and lifted her to heaven and to the life that’s really life. Because she knew and loved Jesus, we can be sure that she is with him today. As we’ve said, Lyndsey was a good person in so many ways, but she is not in heaven with Jesus because she was a good person. She is in heaven with Jesus because he is a great Savior. She is there on his merit, not hers. And she is free from her cancer and well again and dancing in heaven’s parade in glory and thanksgiving to God. She is well.
And we are left in our grief. We’re burying a 30-year-old, a daughter, a fiancé, a friend. We grieve. We should grieve. We need to grieve. Right now, it’s still a little surreal, but it will get more real as our shock wears off and reality sets in. So grieve. It’s normal. It’s healthy. It’s Christian. It’s the hurt that leads to healing. And for those of us who know Jesus, we grieve with hope. We grieve with hope because we know that since Lyndsey is with Jesus and Jesus is with us, we will never be that far apart.
Lean into Jesus in your grief. He is the resurrection and the life; he is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the one who was dead but is alive forevermore. He is the one who holds the keys to death and the grave. He is the friend that sticks closer than a brother; the man of sorrows acquainted with grief, the one who promises never to leave us or forsake us. Lean into Jesus. It doesn’t feel like it now, but he will see you through to a brighter day. He’s done it for others. He will do it for you.
And remember this too: if you know Jesus, you’ve not seen the last of Lyndsey Beth. You’ve not seen her last smile, felt her last hug. You will see Lyndsey again on the other side when either Jesus comes back, or you go to Jesus in death. And what a great reunion that will be in the place where the circles that are broken on earth by death will never be broken again. No wonder Paul could stick out his tongue at that last enemy death and say, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? Death has been swallowed up in victory in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.