Thursday, May 16, 2013

L.E.A. (Love 'Em All) --- Day One ... A Celebration of Joy

Today was a celebration of Joy.  Quite literally.  Joy Darden was a deacon at Towerview, the church God has called me to pastor.  I never got to serve with Joy.  He was in failing health by the time I got here.  I got to know him during his occasional appearances at church when he was well enough to come and my visits to his home to check up on him.  He was a delightful man with a great sense of humor and a love for God.

And today I conducted his funeral service.

"Doing a funeral" is one of those things that pastors usually find intimidating at first.  What do you say?  How do you comfort the deeply grieving?  Honestly, I never had that problem.  My first funeral was in 1981.  Our suburban Chicago church was without a pastor and I, the lowly youth minister, was asked to bury a church leaders father.  Sadly, the deceased did not know Christ.  Those funerals are the worst.  There truly isn't any good news to give.  You do your best, tell the truth about Jesus, and pray that God works in a desperate situation.

The key to doing a funeral is quite simple.  Love the family enough to hurt with them.  Taste the salt in their tears when they cry.  And then tell them that while crying is appropriate for now, God is going to turn their mourning into laughter.  You may get an immediate grin but don't be fooled ... the tears will be right back.  The grief is to new ... to thick.

And so today I got to "love 'em all" by loving Joy's family.  I got to stand before a couple of hundred people and tell them the very best news that has ever been told.  God loves us!  He sent Jesus to fix the problem between us!  It's all going to be alright!  We sang.  We read scripture.  Joy's son told us about the amazing man his father was.  I spoke for about 15 minutes and told them what God says about death.  And then we went to a cemetery and left our friend there.

When I finish a funeral service, I have to tell you, I feel like I have done something that matters.  I feel like God's Hand rested on my shoulder and directed me throughout the ordeal.  I feel that the words of gratitude from the family for simply being there with them and for sharing the Great Hope are words that they really do mean.  And that changes my day.

It's odd but doing a funeral is part of dumping my slump.  I don't suppose it is because somebody died.  It is because I got to tell his family that he actually still lives.  I got to give "the Lazarus news."  I got to play the role of the angel outside the tomb of Christ after the stone was rolled away when he uttered those amazing, history changing, world shaking words ... "He is not here!  He has RISEN!"