Time is at a premium today, so if I’m going to get anything of value to you, it’ll need to be brief. At the moment, I have the topic of funerals reverberating in my brain.
Lent is already weighty enough for the soul that the last thing any of us might think we need to add to it is a funeral. Better yet, two. In the shadow of Lent’s penitential unwillingness to let us forget that we are dust and to dust we shall return, here at Our Savior we’re being forced to say goodbye to two people we love.
On second thought, maybe a few funerals are just what a Christian community needs during Lent.
The conversations that take place at a funeral are unique. In many respects, they’re dialogues filling an existential classroom, and just by participating, one can learn quite a bit. In particular, a person might learn that while Soren Kierkegaard was wrong about a lot, he was onto something when he said that life, as it must be lived in forward motion, is better understood by looking backward. A funeral is a time of forward and backward observance, a time to look back and to finally understand certain circumstances that may have been unknown at the time, but by their happening, the present and future have been determined.
Similarly, another thing to be learned during funeral conversations is that at any given moment on the mortal timeline, what’s happening isn’t so much about the moment itself, as though each moment is an end-all occurrence. Instead, each moment is working in tandem with other moments to lead us somewhere. In other words, every moment in our lives is aimed toward something in the future.
For the Christian, we know an element of that “something” to be our final day—the moment we close our eyes and breathe our last only to open our eyes and inhale again in eternity.
But as I was saying before, a Christian funeral is a time to examine all of those individual moments and to see how they fit together in preparation for that final day. It is to look backward to understand them while we move forward along the way. It is to realize how important it was for the deceased to have dragged her children kicking and screaming to worship each and every Sunday. Its future relevance is now known, even as those same children and their families are here right now rejoicing in the hope of eternal life, rather than being found in despair. Again, looking back, we realize why the deceased would have invested so much of her mortal mind and muscle in Christian education knowing full well she’d never in her lifetime see the end result for most of it. And yet, this present moment offers the living, breathing results sitting in the pews with their own children rejoicing in the resurrection victory of the same Jesus Christ she shared while teaching math, science, and reading.
I don’t want to get too deep with all of this, but suffice it to say that Lent is a perfect time for a funeral. Lent is showing us the passing and dust-destined nature behind every moment of our lives. And yet, we learn that each has the potential for revealing to us the glorious endpoint when our aim is not the mortality of this life, but rather the immortality of the next. And if the funeral service itself is being rightly handled, it’ll be an even grander conversation detailing the Gospel, which includes the individual moments of our Lord’s life and the part each played in winning our eternal life.
His baptism played a part. His temptation in the wilderness played a part. His miracles played a part. His life and preaching and conversations and teaching all played a part, each as it had the goal of seeing Him, the innocent One, crucified for our transgressions and raised on the third day for our justification.
Everything He did was for us. Everything He accomplished was earned on our behalf. Each moment along the way of His holy life was leading Him to the Holy Triduum—the three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. Having this angle of orientation, we can look backward and understand each of the moments he endured—any and every particular New Testament narrative—and we can understand why the Lord said what He said, why He was doing what he was doing, why He was enduring what he was enduring. We can better grasp his intentions in each because we know His ultimate goal. And knowing this, we’ll have a better grip on the immensity of the love He has for each and every one of us.
There’s a lot that can be learned from a funeral during Lent. This is at least one thing.