Paul offers a stellar treatment of hope in chapters 5 through 8 of his letter to the Romans. Last week, we looked at the concluding message of this “Gospel of hope.” With today’s passage, this theme is set up for a lengthy exposition. This section of Romans offers no less than five passages for consideration at a Christian funeral.
Verses 1-4 complete a transition from the previous pages of justification and faith. Our reason for hope is not through following a law, or The Law, but in the Holy Spirit, the very action of God’s grace in our lives:
Hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God
has been poured out into our hearts
through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless,
yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person
one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners
Christ died for us.
How much more then,
since we are now justified by his blood,
will we be saved through him from the wrath.
Indeed, if, while we were enemies,
we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son,
how much more, once reconciled,
will we be saved by his life.
Not only that,
but we also boast of God
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now received reconciliation.
When one thinks about it, it is truly audacious to consider that sinners–enemies of God as the apostle insists–are placed in a situation where the concluding sentiment is not fear, but boasting. Boasting! We boast in God–that is how deep is our quality of hope. And perhaps in the face of human death, we need that audacity.
This section of Romans is quite fine for a funeral, but perhaps will require careful homiletics. First, that hope emerges from suffering. Not something easy to communicate to mourners. Some loved ones are just not ready to listen. Second, the language of “sinners” and “enemies” can also be a barrier. People do not think of themselves in the terms given–at least not in the latter sense. On the other hand, some exposition here might be worth the effort. What do you think?