Those who are led by the Spirit of God
are children of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery
to fall back into fear,
but you received a spirit of adoption,
through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”
The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time
are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to futility,
not of its own accord
but because of the one who subjected it,
in hope that creation itself would be set free
from slavery to corruption
and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning
in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves,
who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
we also groan within ourselves
as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
The Jesuit Scripture scholar Brendan Byrne sees this section of Romans 8 as a transition from the “ethical sequence” (Rom 6:1-8:13) into a new argument addressing the experience of the suffering believer. It is natural, it is human for us to utter the protest, “Why me?!” Bad things still happen to good people. At the time of a funeral, we might apply this wonder to the deceased, if the death is judged unjust. Or we might struggle with the loss ourselves as mourners.
At any rate, one strong foundation is Paul’s stress on the familial relationship between God and believers. As brothers and sisters of Christ, we are grafted into God’s divine family. This was certainly how the Israelites saw themselves, as children of God. Paul underscores our reason for hope: the grace of Christ, and the very witness of the Holy Spirit in our midst. The intimate “Abba” is a cry from within the believer–it is seen as a sign of the Spirit at work, and affirming the new nature of our relationship with God.
As Paul moves to address the nature of the suffering believer, he acknowledges the experience of evil. But he brings in a more graphic image of the family, that of childbirth. Our adoption into the Trinity is not just a legal thing: sign a document, conduct a ritual, and we’re in for life. The experience of Christian faith is much more. We are not passive spectators. We can expect painful tribulation. Just like Jesus experienced it. But Christ’s triumph over death gives us all the more reason to hope that as his sisters and brothers, we too shall be saved. God cannot, would not go back on his promise to his daughters and sons.
It seems to me that a funeral may find the preacher addressing one of the three virtues, faith, hope, or love. Faith is difficult, and a funeral homily on it is beset with difficulties, usually. Love is easy enough, I suppose. But the quality many of us need the most at the time of death–our own or someone else’s–is hope. Why not leap into that misunderstood virtue, and address the conrete needs of family and mourners?
What do you think?