In a sermon several weeks ago I remarked that most pastors I know prefer conducting memorial services or funerals to officiating at weddings. I noted that I had said that a number of years ago in another sermon in my former pastorate, and that it had been something most people who heard it had remembered. Something similar occurred here as well.
Since that more recent Sunday morning a few weeks ago here at BMPC a number of people who were in worship have offered some comment on my reflection. I’ve felt it necessary to explain that it’s not that pastors generally prefer sadness to joy (certainly not!) but that memorial services often give congregations the opportunity not only to offer thanksgiving to God for the life of the deceased but to reflect on the gift of life itself.
Midway through Lent we remember the words from Ash Wednesday that accompanied the imposition of ashes: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Our immortality is an indisputable fact. All of us will die. But, for Christians, our faith also affirms another reality. In fact, Paul is so bold as to say that we will not die, for death is not the final reality. Life is. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
Changed from glory into glory, we go forward to live as best we can in the days God has granted us. I often find myself concluding a memorial service sermon with words of encouragement for the living. Having commemorated the life that has passed from us, we now look into our own lives, reflecting on God’s gift to us and how we can yet respond in ways that will bring glory to the gift and the Giver.
Recently I was talking with a woman who had endured great personal pain. “How do you go on?” I asked her, hoping that she might offer thoughts I could share with others who had suffered similar tragedies. “I just love life,” she said. “I love living. I decided I just had to go on.”
Living gratefully, living fully, even living joyfully after life’s blows brings glory to God and fullness of life to us in the days before us. May this Lenten season continue to inspire us to meaningful reflection on life itself.