This week I preached my first funeral. It was my grandmothers. I've now lost two good, godly grandmothers both of whom I loved very much. I called both of them "Mamaw." Some say Mamaw is a Southern nickname for grandmothers. Not sure if that's true or not, but we were using it up in the Mid-West.
The funeral was in Indianapolis. A lot more people showed up than I expected. I initially thought it would be just me, the fam, and a few close friends. But distant friends, co-workers, and other acquaintances came too.
As I spoke, I told a handful of my favorite stories from my time with Mamaw. I said the one word which described her best was "generous." I talked about her faith in a generous God and challenged the crowd to be like Mamaw - always thinking about someone else.
Interestingly, I didn't have too much trouble with the message. I kept thinking that during my preparation or my sermon I'd lose it. But I didn't.
Part of this was because she truly was an incredible grandmother and my memories of her are happy ones. Another part of this, however, was that I felt a lot of hope in the midst of her death. That hope is hard to articulate, but I guess I'd say it's that I knew she experienced less of death.
Clearly, I don't think every death should feel the exact same way for everyone. Obviously, the nature of the relationship determines much of how you feel when someone passes. Timing plays a huge part. Expectations that have been met or unmet have their say in your emotions. However, when a Christian dies there are a few truths that do remain the same. Those truths give us that hope I was feeling. Because of Jesus death is simply less.
In the middle of living, it seems that life is long. At a funeral, you realize it's short. We're not in the dress rehearsal; we're in the real show. And we're in the final act.
However because of the gospel we're in more of like a temporary final act. Instead of going on to what the Bible calls the second death, we go on to eternal life, and that's where things are truly final (and that's a good thing).
When someone dies, you realize how much you really love them. In that love, you wish you could go back and give them everything they ever wanted. You look back and no matter what they had you think, "They deserved more." Well, whatever they lacked wasn't final it was only temporary. And, because of Jesus, now they lack nothing.
In Christ, Mamaw is now in a place where she has no option but contentment and fulfillment because she is with Jesus. Let's say there were things she did lack while she was with us, whatever those things were they were only temporary - whether that was health, money, a fulfilled dream or whatever. No one we lose will have had a perfect life. But because of the cross, it's ok. Now they do and it lasts forever.
In another sense, because of Jesus, death is not the final curtain call but more like an intermission. And, with Jesus, the second half is much better than the first. It's not just better; it's perfect.
By God's grace, I always showed Mamaw a lot of love. I called her every other week. I always made sure to say thanks for all of the gifts she sent me. I always ate a meal (or twenty) with her when I came into town.
But I'm not perfect. I could have always called more, I could have been more thankful, I could have gotten to know her even better.
On the one hand, these circumstances tell me that my chance to be better is gone. On the other hand, the scriptures say that one day I'll be in a perfect state, and I'll be able to be perfect towards her (and every other believing loved one I lose along the way). So I can wish all day long that I did this or that, or I can focus on the fact that heaven will give me a perfect relationship with God and others. We'll have billions of years to say what we should have said and do what we should have done.
As we left the funeral, the casket was still above ground. I could see it as I was driving away. The next day, as I was heading out of town, I took the long way to drive by her burial plot one last time. She was in the ground. All you could see was a fresh pile of dirt.
For those of you who don't have faith in Jesus, I love you. But I don't get how you can even make it through a funeral without wanting to die yourself. I'm not trying to act like I'm better than a non-believer, I'm not, but I couldn't live thinking that all the greatness that was my Mamaw ended up under a pile of dirt. Thank God that's not the case because she was saved.
Part of what she was saved from was a meaningless life and death. The Holy Spirit lived within her and stirred her up to do some incredible things for God. Those things still benefit her now, because she's not just under a pile of dirt.
She sat by me in church throughout my entire childhood. This wasn't meaningless.
Jesus saved me and called into the ministry of the church. She bought me my first suit which I needed for one of my first preaching gigs. This wasn't meaningless.
She regularly sent me care packages as I was in Bible college. Those care packages weren't meaningless.
She prayed for and supported my church, always wanting updates on how things were going. Her concern wasn't meaningless.
None of it was meaningless because heaven and hell are realities. And every single person that I have gotten to baptize was dunked under that water partly due to her good work. Since she isn't just under a pile of dirt, but will be resurrected to walk with Jesus forever, she will eventually meet people who are walking with Jesus too because she lived the way she did.
Additionally, Jesus will soon reward her for her faithfulness. She will then cast her crowns back at his feet, and that will be the most meaningful moment of her existence.
I definitely wouldn't say it was fun to preach my first funeral this week - I hope it's a while before I have to do another one - but I will say it was good. It was hopeful. It was a reminder that, because of Jesus, death has less power. Much less.