The Life of the Funeral

I’m attending more funerals lately. It’s the inevitable outcome of advancing years. Observing the departures prompts a contemplation of mortality, especially mine.

Samuel Johnson said “The prospect of being hanged wonderfully focuses the mind.”  He overstates. It really doesn’t take a noose. Even natural death is riveting. It’s not just another’s passing that grabs my attention. It is also the reflection on my life, now 82% complete actuarially speaking. What kind of life has it been…will it be?

Dallas Willard, the late philosophy professor at the University of Southern California and honored friend of the Okoboji Bible Conference, coined a helpful phrase to describe the life Jesus offered His followers. Willard called it an “eternal kind of life.” The recorded literal words of Jesus that describe this life bear implications of both quantity and quality.  The English word “eternal” or as in the King James Bible, “everlasting,” suggests quantity only. Trust Jesus and live forever somehow, somewhere. Much Christian talk leans toward “the sweet by and by.”

Another understanding, captured by Willard’s phrase, comes closer. Jesus offers full life now. He said so according to John 10:10, “I have come that you might have life to the full.” And yes, He also promised life without end in the age to come. He says that life will be with Him. “I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live.” (John 14:3, The Message)

At the funerals I attended in the last few weeks, I was taken by the simple beauty of two lives well lived. A phrase that came to mind was something Jesus said of His followers, “You are the salt of the earth.” Both of these people lived flavorful lives. They seasoned those who knew them. I’m sure they had their flaws but by the time I met them, they each looked a lot like Jesus. This man and woman were kind, loving, full of grace, and gentle…two Christ-confessing, Bible-believing people who never knew each other but may yet meet. Both died in their late 80s. Neither was famous. Like most of us, their great grandkids will barely remember them. But they lived “eternal kind of lives” and I’m convinced they continue full and forever. They were reborn to this kind of life when they put their trust in Jesus Christ.

I lack statistics, but it appears to me that attendance at formal funeral services is down while participation at visitations is up. I surely don’t have a problem with personally engaging surviving loved ones with sympathetic condolences. I’m just convinced that a Christian funeral is also a good time to give attention to mortality and eternity; to remember that life is uncertain and oh so short; to hear the Bible, the Word of God; and to sing an old hymn or a new chorus with tears. Jesus offers an “eternal kind of life” that can begin now and last forever. A funeral, of all places, could become the open door to that kind of living.