Four funerals in six days.
I put my fourth Seven Layer Salad on the counter next to the other salads. A red jello salad, garden-fresh coleslaw, green pea salad and a fresh-cut fruit salad were already displayed beautifully in cut crystal bowls. Several women buttered buns and filled them with honey baked ham. A pyramid of funeral sandwiches would eventually make it to the place of honor. The women of the church quietly chattered with each other. The usual plates, napkins, silverware and serving spoons were already set out. Hot potato casseroles would be set next to the sandwiches. Arlene’s lemon pie, Joyce’s triple chocolate layer cake and Shirley’s German Chocolate cake were cut into decent sized portions and placed onto the normal yellow plates. Irene’s chocolate chip cookies were always arranged in a lovely basket.
That week occurred in early November during the second year of my first solo pastorate. Nothing can galvanize long term relationships like the intensity of ministry in the local church, especially in a church that did remarkable outreach to families in need of a place to hold a funeral service. Some of the local old guys teased me from time to time. “They say you’ll marry or bury anybody up there on that hill, pastor!” The Methodist church I served was located uphill from the downtown area where the taverns also doubled as an early morning coffee shops. There were no Starbucks or Duncan in Midwestern small towns.
I loved to banter with the old guys.
In truth, I did bury the old guy who teased me most. He visited our church frequently during the years I served that congregation. He asked if I would even do his funeral. I assured him I would take care of him, too. He died at home. His son and I went to check on him because he didn’t make it to coffee one morning. “I think something happened to Dad,” his son looked desperate. “Let’s go together,” I said. My fourth salad was for him.
“How do you do this?” asked the son. He questioned the way I was handling all the deaths, my disposition and ability to do his father’s funeral in the midst of the other three that week.
“It’s not hard if you really believe it,” I said. I meant it. I meant it then and I mean it still.
Sooner or later we will have the opportunity to consider what we believe about what happens to us when we die. Maybe you’ve heard the old joke: death doesn’t scare me—it’s the getting there that I am afraid of! I respect death. I don’t joke about it. Death is the ultimate boundary. It is absolutely something every created thing will experience. Many of my dear friends and family members struggle with what it means to go on living without a loved one or a significant person in their life. There is a lot of unfinished business. Sometimes people feel abandoned. Others feel set free and released from the guilt or shame of a relationship that had gone sideways. Grief is personal and painful. I don’t have any cliches or answers. But, I do have an assurance that I can share.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything. The promise of resurrection for us who believe came from the same God that raised Jesus from the dead. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end. The worst thing is not the last thing. I don’t have to understand something fully in order to believe that it is true. I do need a robust faith that sustain my belief—especially when it is challenged. Even in death, we are active in this holy pursuit. It is worth your undivided attention and apprehension to know Jesus Christ was and is raised from the dead. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s not some made up story to satisfy the masses. It is the very truth we stake our lives on.
Sunday, we begin a new series titled “I AM.” The gospel of John includes the “I AM” statements of Jesus. We will learn what these statements are and what meaning they have for us. We begin with Jesus’ words, “I am the resurrection and the life.” What could happen if you really believed this? Would anything change, if so, what? Join us Sunday for worship and so much more.
But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:
Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now? 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 The Message