We seem to be surrounded by death, lately, don’t we? Earthquakes, hurricanes, Las Vegas mass shooting, gang violence in some of our cities. Did I mention cancer and heart disease? It’s probably safe to say that each reader of this column has lost a family member, neighbor, or friend in the last six months.
In conducting 70 or so funerals and memorial services since my call to ministry in 1998, I’ve observed some things I believe worth sharing.
First, a funeral for a follower of Jesus Christ has a significantly different feel than a service for a non-believer. While Christians feel deep grief over the loss of a loved one, there’s an underlying understanding that this separation is only temporary, it’s not permanent. Christians understand Jesus’ promise when He said He’s going ahead to prepare a place for us when we join Him. We understand the Biblical promises that we’ll someday be reunited with loved ones who’ve gone on before us. We’re comforted that we’ll someday see our grandparents, favorite aunts and uncles, maybe our wife or husband, and our baby brother – all who died before we were ready to release them.
We understand the joy that day will bring when our physical pain or disability is gone and we receive our Heavenly bodies which are imperishable and disease-proof. We understand that death is not the final chapter in our story. John 11:25-26 assures us that in death we will step into the arms of the One who declared “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Winston Churchill believed this. The prime minister planned his own funeral. Two buglers were positioned in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. At the conclusion of the service the first played taps, the signal of a day completed. The second played reveille, the song of a day begun.
Woody Allen said “I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying.”
Mark Twain supposedly said “Everyone wants to go to Heaven…we just don’t want to have to die to get there.”
Second, I’ve observed that funerals are a perfect time to reflect on our own lives. While we’re sitting there listening to the eulogy of the person who died, most of us reflect on our own lives, probably comparing ourselves to the person we’ve come to honor. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the angel Clarence says to the James Stewart character George: “Strange isn’t it, George. Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, it leaves an awful hole.”
Do you remember the memorable scene from “Saving Private Ryan” when the elderly James Ryan kneels before Capt. Miller’s grave and asks his wife “Tell me I’ve led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” She replies “you are.” Then, Private Ryan stands back and salutes Capt. Miller’s gravestone, the man who saved his life in WW II.
Being an Anglican, it’s appropriate I conclude this column by quoting one of the greatest Anglican theologians, C.S. Lewis. He wrote “The grave is not the end. With our eternal hope found in Jesus Christ, our eternal home is Heaven. Are you grieving today over the loss of a Christian? Today in prayer, thank Christ that through His grace that person is with Him in eternal glory. There are better things ahead than any we leave behind."
If you need that hope, find a church that faithfully teaches God’s Word. Put your hope, trust, and faith in the One who lived, died, and was resurrected so that, one day, those who believe in Him will live forever with loved ones who’ve gone before. As Christians we think we’re the living waiting to join the dead. In reality, we’re the dead waiting to join the living.” Amen.
The Rev. Dale L. Chrisman, is Rector of Trinity Anglican Church which meets at Villa Antonia in the hills between Jonestown and Lago Vista.