We get a completely new set of people



Thomas Long, writing in his book Accompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral, imagines a funeral for a wife and mother named Annette. The funeral he imagines is, like so many others, “sweet and nostalgic”, featuring readings of Psalm 23 and Proverbs 31, and celebrating that she “was a good woman, a good Christian”. He continues:

“we go to the grave where Annette now lies next to her husband and her parents in the family plot in the cemetery, and it will forever be this way. ‘We will always remember her,’ we say.

But of course it’s a white lie; we won’t remember her always. All of the pieces of Annette’s funeral were fine as far as they went, but the fact is, they were built on the illusion that this land is our permanent home. We get a completely new set of people every 100 years, and it will not be too many generations before no one living much remembers Annette at all. If history rolls on long enough, her church will disappear, the building will disintegrate, the congregation will be scattered, and the cemetery will be covered by the dust, the tombstones long disintegrated.

This is exactly the perspective on life and mortality that is so common in Scripture, and so uncommon today. Rather humbling, in fact, and sobering. And a perspective that even at a funeral is hard to get people to face. But that is precisely why a Christian funeral should not be simply nostalgic and sweet, but built on a more clear-eyed view not only of the reality of death, but also a firm proclamation of Christian hope. For:

“if Annette will be forgotten to history, she will be remembered by God, and she worships now in a building not made with hands. The funeral, then, should honor this land – the person Annette has been, the things she has done, the relationships she formed – but the funeral should not be consumed with nostalgia for Annette’s past nor ours, because our hope does not lie in this land alone, but in the city whose architect and builder is God.”


where God is overwhelmingly active and available

Fred Sanders:

“The New Testament idea of salvation is that God has dealt with us by dealing with Jesus Christ: the life, death and resurrection of Christ are the place where God the Father took hold of human nature to save it, dealt with sin decisively, and poured out his Spirit without reserve. Then and there God and man became intimately united and worked out the grievances that threatened to overturn their covenant relationship. In Christ, God was so overwhelmingly active and available that once and for all the second half of the covenant was kept: ‘I will be your God and you will be my people.’ It all happened in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Called to life by love

Walter Wangerin Jr., in his utterly beautiful book, Letters from the Land of Cancer, tells a story from the winter of 1982, when he had surgery to remove the lowest lobe of his right lung.¬†Anesthetized, he dropped into that deep drugged sleep that is “the end of consciousness, the end of memory.”

He writes (178):

I recall dwelling in a sort of dream of darkness: a being without form or shape, a consciousness drawn down to a pinpoint. And then this: I felt the (re)creation of my cheek. A warm sensation was actually granting shape to my cheek. If I though anything, I though: Cheek. And then: My cheek. A new creation!

Next I was given a forehead. Then eyelids (closed, sightless); a chin and jaw; then, by a sudden fire, the back of my hand.

Where was this coming from? Slowly he awoke to the presence of his wife beside him, sitting in the darkness, “caressing me with her hand: my cheek, my forehead, and the rest of it.”

This touch, this relationship, this love, summoned him out of his dark unconsciousness, called him back to himself and back to his wife.

He writes:

I wonder whether this isn’t the way babies become conscious of the world, first by sensing and considering the self its parents communicate to it by stroking, embracing, nursing.

I wonder whether this isn’t the way the dead come to life, caressed by the palpable love of Jesus.