In the span of several days, death and life continue their dance. An elderly lady dies in a nursing home. A little boy enters the world, named after his uncle who died as a young man. A college friend, victimized by Alzheimer’s, passes away. I think we get it. Death is a part of life. According to statistics, one out of one of us dies. The beginning of life thrills us. The end of life humbles us, hurts us, cautions us.
We didn’t determine when we are born. We usually don’t have much to say about when we die. What we do have some control over is what happens in the dash between the dates. That’s another thing we have in common: we get to fill in the dash.
You hear it said that a person preaches his own funeral. I have been to services where the story of the life just ended inspires, comforts, and challenges. There have been other services that have carried different themes. Regret, wasted opportunities, poor choices, spiritual ambivalence, and doubt weigh heavy on family and friends alike. No life is perfect, but none of us like to think of being remembered as who we could have been or who we weren’t.
Having led several hundred such services, I know it isn’t always easy to speak the truth in love. One of my favorite stories is about two brothers who terrorized a small town with their corrupt and unethical business practices. Because of their stranglehold on the people, no one challenged their bullying tactics. One of the brothers died. The other brother went to the local pastor to make arrangements. Knowing full well his brother’s character, he tried to bribe the pastor to pay tribute to his deceased sibling. He told the young preacher that he would make a sizable donation to a struggling building fund if his brother was portrayed as a saint.
The church was packed for the funeral, not because the man had been so popular but because the townspeople wanted to hear what the preacher would say about him. When the pastor stepped to the pulpit, he took a deep breath. Looking over at the brother, he glanced down at the ornate coffin and began, “This man was a liar, a cheat, an adulterer, and a bully. He stole from hard-working people, he cheated people out of their land, he threatened people weaker than himself …”, then he paused, “but compared to his brother, he was a saint.”
I never heard what happened to that young preacher, but you have to admire his courage. Life is too precious to waste dishonoring the gift God has given. We all have our flaws, but the One who created each of us has something better in mind, no matter what the dates may say. He wants us to live abundantly, to love generously, to forgive graciously, and to serve extravagantly. We get to fill in the dash.