How do you respond to the suicide of a friend and church member?
Opening remarks by Rev. George Antonakos
at the 3/12/03 funeral of Kevin Bertaux.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. We gather in the name of the one who said, I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies, he will live. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Before we get in to our worship service proper, I would like to just share for a few minutes in a way that might help clear out some obstacles that may be present in your heart and mind today.
Put in the form of a question it would be,
Is taking one’s own life unforgivable?
Or can a person who’s a Christian really do this?
Historically, these are important questions to answer because historically there have been harsh answers. Many denominations in the past refuse to bury those who took their own life on so called Holy ground. Even as late or as early as 150 years ago you can read many polemical responses, but this fails to see God’s grace for what it is and that’s immeasurable. We are people who stand in need of forgiveness everyday. We stumble in a multitude of ways. And it is impossible for me to imagine that a God who so freely forgives us would somehow not forgive even a life ending decision. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That’s the clear word of scripture. The only unforgivable sin is the sin of failing to receive God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
Having said that, I would like to also say that Kevin’s choice was not a good one. In fact, some would say if was a selfish one. It is nothing to be emulated or considered acceptable. It may be trite to say it, but it was a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Now if Kevin could, he would argue with me. Because he always argued with everybody. And he might argue that he wasn’t rushing to death, he was running from pain. But this is not inspired by God. This is the work of the one whom Jesus said was a thief. The one who comes to kill, and to steal and to destroy. But nonetheless, God’s grace covers our poorest choices, because God is the God of the prodigal. God is the God of the son who wasted his life. God is the one who throws his dignity to the wind and runs to meet his son before he has a chance to say anything.
And so we come with so many feelings, sadness because we are without his presence. Guilt, because we wish we could have said or done something differently. Anger, because he didn’t give us a chance to reason with him. And hurt because we won’t have his company for the rest of our days. But I call each and every one of us to give our feelings and our fears to God in this time. Because this is still the day that the Lord has made and we will still rejoice in it, even in our sorrow. And so we gather to worship God, to give witness to our faith and to give thanks for the earthly life of Kevin Bertaux.