Grave markers, headstones, whatever you call them, I noticed that there are more of them in the cemetery now than there were eight years ago when I first moved to Edson with my family. It is obvious that if you stay in a place for a few years, the cemetery will fill up. Obvious, but how often do we reflect upon that fact?
These thoughts came to me on Saturday as I rode in the front of the limo to the cemetery with our local funeral director, Bob. I was there because I was about to do the interment service after another funeral – the third this fall.
When I was a student pastor in B.C., I worked with a pastor who did an amazing number of funerals. He said that he would rather do a funeral than a wedding. I thought that was really radical – unbelievable! If I hadn’t known and respected him, I would have thought he was crazy.
However, I hadn’t been a pastor for too many years before I began to agree with him. Now I wonder how any pastor could not think that way. Funerals are a significant opportunity to confront and comfort people with God’s Word. At a wedding, the preacher is often just a tool – a nod to tradition, a guy to make grandma happy. My presence is also a bother for some couples, because I always require premarital counseling sessions.
I admit that funerals are challenging. They can be quite distressing, on a personal level. It is hard to be the guy in charge when the person is a believer from my church and I have to deal with the personal pain and help carry the load of people that I know. The alternative is that the funeral is for someone from the community and I have to be very careful with the words I speak. Not because I am worried primarily about offending non-believing family and friends, but because I know that I have to be honest before God. Of course everyone wants to believe that their loved one is in Heaven, but I can’t assume that. I must speak to the living and point them to Christ. With these challenges come opportunites. That is what makes the responsibility of funerals a good thing.
What really got me thinking when I saw all those new headstones, however, was not my pastoral experience but the fact of death itself. All this "professional stuff" is context. The striking fact is that we all die. I always say that at funerals. I always challenge people to prepare for eternity because this life is a vapor. The question is, do I really believe it?
I enjoy listening to the White Horse Inn radio show. One of the hosts, Rod Rosenbladt, has said a few times over the years that “death has been outlawed in Orange County,” (California). It’s not just Orange County. We, perhaps more than any culture on earth or in history, have isolated ourselves from the reality of death. We used to have graveyards beside churches. Perhaps it was a mistake to stop that practice. If we looked out the windows and saw the tombstones, we would be reminded why we need to be in church, hearing the good news of the gift of Christ’s blood and righteousness.