In grateful memory of my friend Paul Redekkop.
I shared the following at the virtual graveside service of my friend, Paul Redekopp, and I am told that it would be helpful for a broader audience to (re)consider how we approach the departure of loved ones based on a more biblical and apostolic foundation than what has become the status quo among modern Christians. I offer it as a meditation that is relevant to everyone. I’ve added verse references after the fact.
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Greetings, family and friends of Paul Redekopp. My name is Brad, and I am grateful to have known Paul as a friend.
Esther has asked me to share briefly what I might say during a graveside service.
She has noticed that thinking about Paul being “in heaven” was unhelpful to her because so often, we imagine heaven to be far away—a kind of absence. But for Esther, she has found far more comfort in her grief to think about Paul’s departure as a kind of presence. She has found it more fruitful to say out loud what she still needs to process with Paul as if he truly has joined the “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) that surrounds her.
I want to respond to that experience from the Scriptures and then offer a traditional graveside prayer.
Where is Paul Redekopp today? The apostle Paul said that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). And because, in Christ, death has been defeated, Paul is alive before the Lord. Referring to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Jesus said, “God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living” (Luke 20:38).
So, we believe that Paul is with the Lord. And specifically, Paul is PRESENT with the Lord, who IS ever-present with us (Psalm 46:1, Matthew 28:20). He is not absent with the Lord who is absent from us.
In other words, Paul Redekopp stands at the very same throne of grace—the mercy seat of Jesus—that we attend every time we pray, every time we worship, every time we’re grateful. The apostles’ creed calls this common fellowship “the communion of the saints.” Listen to this present-perfect tense (have come) sense of connection between all those who gather in the presence of Christ, from Hebrews chapter 12:
But you [Esther], have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, you have come to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, you have come to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, you have come to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
The better word to which the author refers is mercy. And it is the word spoken over Paul as he is being made perfect. The historic church has prayed for many centuries the word of mercy for all those who, like Paul, are being transformed from glory to glory into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
With that biblical foundation, I’ll pray the traditional prayer now:
O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who has trampled down death and overthrown the devil, and given life to your world, we ask You, the same Lord, to give rest to the soul of your departed servant Paul Redekopp, in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, where all sickness, sighing, and sorrow have fled away. Pardon every transgression that he had committed, whether by word or deed or thought. For you are a good and merciful God and you love mankind; because there is no one who lived without sin but you, and your righteousness is to all eternity, and your word is truth.
For you are the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of your servant Paul, who has fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and to You, we ascribe glory, together with your Father, who is from everlasting, and Your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.