“I love a good funeral.”
I have overheard this comment twice recently, and I was inclined to agree. There have been four good funerals this month in our small community. Beautiful music. Tender eulogies. Abundant thanksgiving to God for those long and loving lives. Yes, I would say those were good funerals.
But, of course, that’s not always the case.
Last winter in Ireland I stood on the cold sidewalk with long lines of townspeople on both sides of Main Street in Ballygar, in sorrowful respect as two black hearses inched their way to the cathedral. A car accident ended the lives of a mother and her young son. That was definitely not a good funeral.
One night in Ethiopia the sound of loud wailing at the mission clinic woke me and I walked half a kilometer to see what happened. A woman had come to deliver a baby, but something went terribly wrong; both she and the baby died. Her shocked family members were writhing and pacing, moaning and sobbing, shawls thrown over their faces. Those wails of anger and grief-pain are recorded in my memory. I’m pretty sure there was nothing good about their funeral.
Years ago in Bolivia I drove our truck as a hearse. Jake was out of the country when our dear friends’ little son died, so there I was, driving the weeping mother and father in the backseat cradling a small white box on their laps . . . slowly, slowly, slowly . . . winding through the city to the cemetery, with a long line of cars in my train. With inconsolable sobbing, that mother fought the men who were putting that white box – her baby – into the grave. Where was goodness that day?
The first family funeral I can remember was when I was 27 years old. It was a graveside service at a North Carolina country cemetery. No music. No eulogy. A white tent. A handful of subdued people in folding chairs on a piece of carpet. The preacher and a small table displaying a shoebox-sized casket. The little body inside had never seen the light of day.
That was Hannah, my first daughter. Stillborn. Definitely not a good funeral.
At least not at the time.
But today, as I am thinking about these different scenes from my past, I am seeing that there is something good about every funeral.
And perhaps especially Hannah’s.
Every funeral is a chance to remember that life is brief. This is the way of all the earth. We all die, and none of us know when.
Every funeral is an invitation for us to review our lives and think about what really matters. It’s a chance to make peace with God. It’s an opportunity to submit to His sovereign will and to accept His mysterious ways.
In my peculiar opinion, a really good funeral would be one where someone finds new life through Jesus.
Someday it will be my funeral.
I hope it’s a really good one.
And I don’t mean the eulogy.