“…The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon. They still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green…” Psalm 92
In Australia most people are old when they die. What this entails for the funerals of many, is a great surprise for most young ministers.
Prior to ordination, I had been to five or six funerals of friends killed in car accidents, or in Vietnam. These were big affairs, hundreds upon hundreds of people, These gave a false impression of what to expect.
After ordination I discovered normal funerals. Most were of old people and were small family affairs. Most families were divided and unhappy. Only some of the relatives turned up and often long standing hostilities, especially over money. were just beneath the surface.
So we would gather in the chapel or at the church, 13, maybe 20 people. A few relatives, a couple of people from the retirement home, maybe a couple of old friends or neighbours. It is pathetic, sad and demoralising that a long human life had come to this. Hardly anyone took any time to notice its passing.
Yet the funerals of elderly church people are often quite different. I think of Hazel, Arthur, Muriel… the list goes on. Little people in this world’s eyes. Not many of noble birth, fame or fortune. Never on television or radio. Only noted in the newspaper in the paid adverts for funeral arrangements. Yet their funerals were large and their passing mattered to others. Their lives were recalled with thanksgiving.
The difference is more than the Christian ability to face death knowing its defeat in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. That is a difference—a very large one—that gives purpose and joy in the face of grief and sorrow. A difference felt particularly in the large funerals of Christian young people.
The difference in the funerals of the elderly results from the ongoing love by which Christians live in this world. Love for one another is the authentic mark of being Jesus’ disciples.
This love always reaches out to meet, care and pray for new people. True religion is visiting widows and orphans and showing hospitality. We are never to neglect meeting together to encourage one another in good works.
Hazel, Arthur, Muriel and so many other elderly Christian folk, continued through church to love, care, welcome and meet new people. So many people knew of their prayerful interest. And that is why their death was marked by so many people, People, touched by their lives.
As our godless society moves to greater self-centred individualism we will see smaller funerals—for who cares that other life ends? So Christian funerals will increasingly stand out as a testimony—not just to a better way to die—but also to a better way to have lived.