I am getting to the age when going to memorial services is a more frequent occurrence than in times past. The deceased is not always older than I am. Sometimes death was expected after a long illness; at other times, death was sudden and the family is in stunned disbelief. Moreover, because of the circles I travel in, the services are often bittersweet, in that those who know their loved one died in Christ, are rejoicing in his “new address” in Heaven although the sadness of his absence stings.
As is customary, there are eulogies given by children or close friends and a short message by a pastor. Usually, the remembrances are fond and positive, rarely devoting time to negative or annoying traits of the deceased. Yet, most in attendance, if not all, know deep down that regardless of the commending words uttered, there were times when living with that person was challenging. After all, we are talking about redeemed sinners.
To be honest, my mind often wanders at these gatherings. I think of my own departed parents, grandparents, friends, and acquaintances. I am struck with the reality that day-in and day-out, I am encountering people who may have lost someone close to them and I’m not privy to that at all. I only wonder if my impatience or frustrated reactions to them add insult to injury. How easy it is for me to forget about what comes after this life, unless something like the death of another reminds me.
However, this is not true for all people in all professions. Nurses, doctors, EMTs, firefighters, and policemen encounter the possibility of death on a daily basis as part of their work. I imagine they, like us, are still troubled when they encounter it face-to-face, but must steel themselves from outward reactions as they do their jobs. Maybe we should all be more aware of the struggles they go through when they witness injustices, neglect, or recklessness which contributed to ending a life. We should make a point to extend more grace.
Ecclesiastes 3:2 tells us that there is a time to die. For those who believe in the resurrection of the dead, memorial services help us remember the promise that makes living our current life a preamble for what lies ahead.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Cor. 15:22–23)
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.(1 Cor. 15:58)
So, while it may seem strange, I always do my best to attend memorial services, and enjoy participating in them. They are a chance to reconnect with people I do not see at any other time. They are also a blessing and a reminder to me that there will come a time when I am the person being remembered. Thus, they help me to number my days aright (Ps. 90:12).
Each time I look upon the casket about to be placed in the ground, I imagine a great cloud of witnesses in Heaven, looking down on those remaining loved ones crying their bittersweet tears. I imagine these saints in glory, with the complete knowledge of what lies ahead for those of us left behind, singing the words of Psalm 126:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes,Lord, like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.