On Monday the two little boys and I attended a funeral. After the service ended, and we filed silently out of church, I found myself standing next to Walter. Walter is a member of church, an older man with a twinkle in his eye and a ready smile. In the short time we’ve been here, I’ve also learned that Walter likes to tease. He’ll playfully take Noah’s toy and say, “Hey, what are you doing with my toy?” But on Monday, Walter’s smile was softer, sadder. He looked at me, took a breath, and said, “It’s a good day.”
“Yes, it is,” I answered. But I’ll admit I was a little confused. What exactly did Walter mean? Did he mean “It’s a good day for a funeral?” Or did he just mean, “It’s a good day…weather wise.” I wasn’t sure. Since we have been enjoying an exceptionally gorgeous autumn, and at first I thought that’s what he meant. But something in his voice suggested a deeper meaning.
As we drove to the cemetery, that phrase kept repeating in my mind. It’s a good day…It’s a good day. And it was a good day, especially for the man whose life we gathered to celebrate. But isn’t that weird? To think a funeral is a good thing and to think of a death day as a happy day?
I thought of all the funerals I’d attended as a child. As a pastor’s kid, funerals came with the territory – just like weddings, Sunday School, potlucks, and apologizing to tattletales. I was at ease in the funeral home, around (occupied) coffins, and in cemeteries. In fact, I may have been a little too comfortable. For me a funeral was as social an event as a birthday party. There were free mints, cake and punch, and friends to play hide and seek with. I’m ashamed to say I was not above hiding behind the casket, either.
But I was, and am, comfortable around death for a different reason. Dad raised me to understand that death is nothing to fear, nothing to dread. He taught me that a funeral is a victory service for those who fall asleep in Christ. It is to be celebrated as much as a newborn’s baptism day and as much as the Christian’s day of Confirmation. Maybe even more.
Again, I know that sounds weird. I can think of a few friends who may read this and think the stress of moving has cost me my sanity. But this isn’t one of those things that can be understand with human reason. It’s one of those things we take on faith, believing that Jesus removed the sting of death and now it’s simply the end of this life and the beginning of the next.
Now, hang on, it’s about to get really weird. If all this is true, then shouldn’t death be something a Christian actually looks forward to? Well…yes! I remember the time I met with a doctor after Luke was born. (I’m laughing now, but you can’t hear it. Obviously.) Anyway, he had this little clipboard with a checklist that he was going down rather systematically. He wasn’t even making eye contact. Then out of the blue he asked if I was depressed, and did I ever want to die.
Well, given the whole point of this post, you can imagine how I answered. I said, honestly, that yes I look forward to dying and going to heaven. His head snapped up so fast I almost laughed. I tried to explain what I meant, but he was too busy prescribing an antidepressant to listen.
That memory always makes me smile. It isn’t “normal” to be comfortable around death, and certainly not to look forward to it. But no, I don’t need a psychiatrist. Really. Not when I know what Jesus says about death. The long, in-depth answer, which is well worth reading and studying, can be found in I Corinthians 15. But a shorter answer is in Psalm 116:15, where Jesus calls the death of his saints “precious.”
Walter may have stated it a little simpler, but in the end I have to agree with him. It was a good day. And I’m definitely not talking about the weather. A Child of God finished his race, and gained his crown of life. It was a very good day indeed.