A few days ago, the church phone rang. A local funeral home was calling for a family requesting a church of Christ minister to perform a funeral, and the funeral would be the next day.
Over my brief years in ministry, this situation has happened various times. A loved one dies and it leaves the family with hard decisions, but many of those are quick decisions. Typically, without knowledge of an area, the family reaches out to a funeral home and asks them if they can find a minister. A few days ago, the call came to me.
Typically, these calls are unique. The one who passed may not have family in the immediate area, and the family needs some help. Other times, the family is unfamiliar with churches in the area, so they ask the funeral home to pick one. Still other times, like this one, the family is specific with their requests.
After clearing some time and moving some things around, I spoke with a member of the family regarding the loved one. He spoke of the quick decisions they needed to make in such a short period. Family would come in from another state, local friends may show up, but they were not sure. It was a confusing time for them.
Funerals are one of the difficult things to process in a time of a loved one’s death. There are decisions needing to be made, but the overwhelming thought of making those decisions, the cost and the time arrangements can be difficult.
Emotions run high at times like this. Families might see each other for the first time in many months or even years. Travel plans have been made as quickly as possible and the hope is everyone makes it and keeps it together.
When I arrived at the funeral home, the mood was quiet. Various family members scattered throughout the viewing room were talking and catching up on old times. Some sat quiet; possibly in thought of the man lying in the casket. Still others were just there. Their facial expressions held no emotion. It was almost like it was a formality.
There are situations you talk about when getting an education to prepare you for those future moments, but there was never a course on how to handle situations like this. What is a preacher to say? How does a minister conduct a funeral of someone he does not know?
To add to the confusion for a moment, there was no obituary. The family had decided against one.
Typically, a preacher can gain some insights from an obituary. It lists the occupation, the family, hobbies, church affiliation or even a passing thought; but without an obituary, there is not much there.
So, what do you say in a time like this?
With no insights from the family, all I had to go on was a name, a birth date, and ending date and a church affiliation.
The morning before the funeral I poured over thoughts, articles and information about the eyes of this man’s life. The information was massive. The advancements in technology during his lifetime were staggering. The world events were historic.
The man was born 24 days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He grew up in the shadow of World War II. When he was 10 years old, the first coast-to-coast phone call was made in our country. He experienced the excitement as man Alan Shepard soared into space to become the first man in orbit. He would watch with others and man set foot on the moon. He would see prosperity and recession. His life would see many things.
Religiously, I know he attended church around here. His son, in a brief conversation, told me of growing up at a congregation near me. He spoke of his father’s attendance.
As the service began, I spoke of the times of the man’s upbringing and how things were different throughout his life. How many of the things he probably experienced seem odd to us today, yet he continued through those times.
Psalm 28 became my text. While some focus on Psalm 23, the end of Psalm 28 speaks volumes to someone who follows God.
Blessed be the Lord!
For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
(Psalm 28.6-9; ESV)
What encouraging words of David as he speaks of the exceptional power and saving grace of God toward His people. David knew first-hand the protection and the mercy God has upon those who are His children.
While you are speaking, looking out over an audience wearing masks has been odd. It is difficult to read facial expressions because over half of a person’s face is covered. Preaching has been unique in this regard, but this funeral was a little more unique.
As I spoke of the protection of God, I noticed no tears. No one seemed to be emotional about the passing of this man. Instead, it was a little eerie.
Typically, you can still see people’s eyes and you can see them tear up or wipe their eyes, but not that day. No one made a sound. There was not even an allergy sniffle. You can blame it on Covid-19 the Coronavirus or whatever you want, but it was unique.
After the service was over, no one spoke. I spoke with the son one more time. He thanked me for my time and I told him it was my honor. Everyone went to their cars.
Driving home, my mind raced of the oddity that I had just experienced. What if that was my family?
Was there some big event that happened among the family and I did not know about?
Maybe everyone had already grieved and the funeral was a time of closure for them?
Maybe everyone was just in shock of the passing?
What if the family had no relationship with each other and they did not know how to act?
Maybe this man and said his goodbyes and gave the family a word of peace before he departed this life?
What if the family genes had no tear glands?
I was grasping at anything to make the situation better. Even today, several days removed from the event, it still crosses my mind.
I wonder what it will be like when one of my family members passes? Will the family show up? Will we stare at each other? Will we tear up knowing that someone has left the Earth?
What will it be like at my funeral? Will my children show up and talk? Will they give an emotional tear to me leaving this life? Will anyone even notice?
These questions are what some struggle with their entire life. I have seen it first hand in the lives of Christians and non-Christians. I have watched people hold on until the last moment because they did not know what would happen after they passed.
I have heard people tell their families to get along after they are gone. I have been asked to help families stay together after someone leaves the Earth.
Death is a mysterious event. For some, it is a blessing. For others, it is scary. Some cry on their way to the other side and others scream until they cannot scream anymore. It is just a mysterious event that each one of us will go through at some point.
How do you handle death?
The recent events of a man I did not know made my mind spin. I wonder about his family, his life, his last moments.
Being in ministry for 23 years now, I have learned a few things. One of those things being, you can learn much about a person or a group of people at a major life event; birth, death, baptism, etc. You can see how a family reacts and responds and see the relationship they have or have had.
My thought today is this, how is your family?
Some families will only be together at a funeral home. It might be a tragic event that brings them close.
My appeal to you is not to let that be the only time your family gathers.
Don’t let your next gathering be an oddity at the passing of a family member.
Just my thoughts,