On Saturday, November 18, 2017, my wife’s great-grandfather, Obie Henderson, died. You can read more about Obie here; by all of our usual cultural criteria, he was an upstanding citizen, husband, and father.
That following Monday, we got an unexpected phone call from a family member, asking me to preside over the funeral on Wednesday. I’ve been in vocational ministry for almost ten years now, but had yet to oversee a funeral. I was flattered and humbled to be asked; but also intimidated. I take everything I do in ministry very seriously, and this was certainly no exception. I wanted to say things that would appropriately honor the dead, comfort the grieving, and glorify God.
But in addition, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to make those present think more deeply about how they live their own lives, the reality of death, and their standing with God. After all, at a funeral, many people are present who might not normally set foot in a church building on a Sunday morning.
So in my short sermon, I focused on three ways funerals make us think:
1. We think about the person who has died. Even though believers in Jesus do not “grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13), we still grieve. It is right and appropriate to mourn the fact that the one we love is no longer with us in this life.
2. We think about our own lives. Are we living in a manner that pleases God? Are we pursuing qualities that properly reflect our identity as God’s image-bearers?
3. We think about death. Every attendee at a funeral is confronted with the undeniable reality of death. I mean, think about it: it’s harder to believe the lie of invincibility we tell ourselves when we’re in the same room as an occupied casket.
The truth is that most of us don’t think about death very often. Sometimes we intentionally avoid thinking about it because it’s unpleasant; other times we’re simply distracted by the joys and sorrows, the cares and concerns of this temporary existence. However, perhaps it’s healthy to occasionally take a moment to reflect on the reality of death. It’s humbling to be reminded that we are not invincible; eventually, we all die.
But the biggest question funerals force us to wrestle with is this: “Am I ready for when the time of my death arrives?” My wife’s great-grandfather was; as he passed away, he calmly held his wife’s hand and told her it was “his time to go”. How did he have such peace as he stared at death’s door? Because he was confident that by God’s grace, through his faith in Jesus Christ, he had nothing to fear; he knew he would receive his reward.
I’m sure many (if not most) of us at PVCC have been touched by death in one way or another this year. Perhaps we’ve lost a family member, friend, or coworker. It may have been gradual and expected, or sudden and shocking.
Either way, take a moment and think about your own mortality. In the words of Psalm 27, ask God to “teach us the number of our days”. Consider what matters, and what doesn’t matter. Remember those you’ve lost, examine how you’re living, and contemplate the inevitable day of your own death. And as you contemplate that day, ask yourself this: “Can I face death with confidence, and peace?”
I believe, and Obie Henderson believed, that death is not the end for us; it is only the beginning. And for those who believe in Jesus Christ, that new beginning will be glorious.