Forgive me if I return to the topic of death. It’s not a usual theme of this blog, but this week I lost yet another friend to a brain tumor, and my husband was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. Thirty per cent of people with PE die in the first few hours; he went for days before we realized that was what was going on. We are very grateful to God for his mercy. My husband will be on rat poison (Warfarin®) for months while we pray that the massive clot in his leg will dissolve without further pieces breaking off and moving to his heart, brain or lungs.
I recently read a review of Thomas G. Long's Accompany Them With Singing (Westminster John Knox) in Christianity Today. (Okay, it was the November 2009 CT [p. 69]. So I’m a bit behind.) According to reviewer Rob Moll, Long argues that we have focused on mourners with our video clips, open-mike speeches and other celebrations of the deceased’s earthly life, rather than focus on God’s gift of eternal life. A Christian funeral should be “a dramatic retelling of the gospel.” Cremation is much the cheapest option in this day and age, but by not having the body present are we skipping steps in the grieving process that would take us to the foot of the cross in worship, and so shortchanging ourselves with meaningless sentimentality?
In the audio clip from my brother’s sermon on Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, which was played at his own funeral a few weeks after he preached it, Brad talked about how to react at a funeral. Don’t be quick to get through the intense work of grief, he told us. Weep with others; express your anger, then worship; focus on the person of Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life; look for God’s glory; and then live your future with faith. “Anger and sorrow, joy and hope can be intermingled. They were with Jesus at the funeral of Lazarus! He was sad and mad, but hopeful and confident…. If you keep faith in God’s plan and that God ultimately is resurrection and life, you can live your future; you can laugh again…. Face your funeral fears with the Advent hope that Jesus was born to die so we can die and live.”
My friend Don was a pastor. In early retirement he worked with Steve to encourage theological educators around the world. He had a good mind and a lively sense of humor. I am angry that things like tumors exist in this world although Francis S. Collins in a book I am reading right now, The Language of God, argues that for God to prevent such natural developments would be comparable to his denying humans free will to choose or reject him. I mourn with Don’s wife Caroline, but my desire is to fall down and worship the God who allows both tumors and blood clots and asks us to trust him as he takes us into resurrection and life.
[The photo is the World War II American cemetery in Manila.]
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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