A couple weeks go I attended my first funeral in over 27 months. Let me backtrack and clarify. I conducted two funerals during the past 27 months during COVID. But I haven’t attended any. These two funerals I conducted were for a couple of very prominent and respected men in their communities. The funerals would normally have been packed with well over 200 people in attendance, but due to really tight COVID restrictions there was a maximum allowance of 10 people in both of them. Sadly, a lot of people I’ve known have died over these past two years. Some did have a small funeral or celebration of life with what was allowed with the COVID restrictions. The majority have been deferred to when restrictions ease. For some during COVID, it has been up to two years since loved ones have passed away. That is such a long time, and am not sure now if there will be a celebration of life in many cases. It has got to be so hard for those families that lost loved ones 12-24 months ago and have yet to have a proper closure.
In the past 10 years I have conducted somewhere around 18 funerals. Some were members of the church I lay pastor, while others non church folk from the community I now live in. I conducted the funeral for my Uncle Bernal and others from that same community where I grew up. Three of the deceased I didn’t know at all, but my name was referred. Each person I do a funeral for was a unique, special blueprint. So after spending a considerable amount of time with the family asking questions about their deceased loved one, I will conduct the funeral completely tailored to that individual. Some families don’t want anything spiritual spoken at the funeral because that deceased wasn’t a spiritual person.. And I will honour that request. There would only be the customary couple of verses often shared at a funeral, a detailed message on the life of the deceased, words of comfort and strength to the family and friends and a prayer. Conducting funerals is very challenging, but they have been one of my most fulfilling things I’ve done in ministry. Families are always so appreciative of the words spoken during their time of grieving.
No matter how spiritual or non spiritual a funeral is, the finality of death does have an impact on those in attendance. Which leads to reflection. Does life have any meaning? What have I achieved in my own life? How will people remember me? How do I find meaning in the time I have left? In a graveside service I will often use the “dash” metaphor. The dash that is on the gravestone represents the time spent on earth between the date of birth and the date of death. Writer Linda Ellis has written a poem called “The Dash”. It is fairly long, so I have never actually used it at a graveside service. But I’ll share it here. It admonishes readers to be purposeful in how they live their lives.
Then there are the funerals for a godly Christian who has gone home to glory. Every once in a while I’ll attend one of those. They give me an often needed jolt of spiritual energy for the soul. They challenge me to look within to take an inventory of my own life on how I am living for eternity. The funeral a couple of weeks ago was just that. I had goosebumps all over soaking it all in. It was a celebration of the life of a man named Keith Wood. In his youth Keith asked Jesus to be his Savior at a Billy Graham crusade at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Until he died at 82, he never looked back. The connection with my family was that Keith worked on my dad’s farm when he was 16. This was before I was born, around the year 1956. That was his 1st job. Keith was my dad’s 1st employee. Keith always spoke of my dad so highly. This meant so much to me. He was one of the pallbearers for my dad’s funeral when he died back in 1973. Keith’s greatest influence on me came much later. They were the years I worked alongside him on the deacons board of Willow Creek Baptist Church in Midhurst, a church of 300-400 people. What a Godly man. Getting to know Keith in that capacity made a major impact on my life. Keith daily was living his life in the light of eternity. No matter what struggles were going on in his life, Keith always had a radiant smile. Because he knew God was in control.
Keith was a very successful businessman. He accomplished so much, but what he is most remembered for business wise was his honesty and integrity. His true investments were eternal. Matthew 6:19-20 says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal”. I love the way John Piper paraphrases these verses in his book Desiring God. It reads, “Quit being satisfied with the little 5% yields of pleasure that get eaten up by the moths of inflation and the rust of death. Invest in the blue-chip, high-yield, divinely insured security of heaven. Devoting a life to material comforts and thrills is like throwing money down a rat hole. But investing a life in the labor of love yields dividends of joy unsurpassed and unending”.
The last time I saw Keith was just before COVID hit, just over 2 years ago. Keith, who was always such a people person was trying hard to put a name to my face. When I mentioned who I was, it still didn’t register. I then learned from his wife Luana that Keith was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a defining characteristic of ageing today. I can’t even imagine how painful it must be to experience not only loss of memory, but the confusion and disorientation that accompanies it.
At Keith’s funeral there was incredible eulogies from each of the 5 children and several grandchildren. And one of the children spoke on behalf of Keith’s wife Luana. He was an amazing father and grandfather. But I’m just going to share a tiny bit spoken by the youngest child. She mentioned her dad was always meticulous with writing notes in his Bible, and underlining a lot of favourite passages with ruler like straightness. A very recent underlined passage was found by the family from Psalm 13. They knew it was recent because it was underlined with very shaky hands, and it was accompanied by a placeholder. It reads as follows, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.” Then with very shaky hands the next two verses were circled, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
After the passage from Psalm 13 Keith’s daughter shared what her dad would want us to know. It goes as follows, “Life is hard. But God is good. Earth is raw. But Heaven is magnificent. Every person, every family is guaranteed to have heartbreak and brokenness. Dad would want you to know that Jesus is the place to go for hope. Also, he would want you to know that the Bible is the place to go for hope. That is what I think he would want you to know”.
I left that funeral feeling like I experienced a little bit of Heaven. The difference with the funeral of a born again Christian over an unbeliever is that there is so much hope in the death of the godly Christian. That our time on planet earth is just temporary. Jesus is preparing a place for us. Jesus shares in John 14:1-6, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way? Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” God bless.
Tenth Avenue North: Control (Official Lyric Video) Reunion Records.