|I’ve preached a few funerals in my ministry. I’ve stood over the graves of family members, friends, church members and a few strangers.
Sharing with those gathered around the grave of an unbeliever is difficult. When it is a dear saint of God, their lives have already preached their funeral and I only have to add a closing few sentences. In all cases, I try to share the gospel, because a funeral is for the benefit of those who must go on.
Eddie was one of the most unusual friends I have had in ministry. He was blunt. He was brutally honest. He could come off as gruff and almost mean. I may have kept my distance, but I knew his wife. She is one of the sweetest and classiest ladies you would ever meet. She is also very strong. She took no grief from Eddie. It was because of her that I opened my life up to Him. She saw something in him that I at first did not recognize.
As I grew to know him, I realized he had a heart of gold. He was generous and quietly compassionate. He had little patience with put-ons. He would call it like he saw it and it would sometimes jolt me. I soon came to realize if Eddie saw something in someone, good or bad, he was consistently right. So, I learned to trust him in evaluating people.
Eddie helped a friend or ours who operated a funeral home in a neighboring community. I made myself available to preach funerals for those who did not have a pastor to call on. It was for me a ministry. Eddie on occasion would call me and let me know it wasn’t expected of me, but if I could help out, this family or that needed someone to do their funeral. He knew I would not turn him down.
One time, at graveside, it was me, Eddie and someone from the county. We stood over a grave of a pauper whom had no known family to claim his body. There were no gravestones at the county cemetery, but Eddie made sure that there was a proper funeral, even if it was a simple graveside service. I was glad to help.
I did a biker funeral. Eddie warned me that it was very possible that at the close of the funeral the gang might fire their guns into the air. “Just hope none of them get into an argument,” he commented as he smiled wryly. Fortunately, they decided to do their gun salute at another location that evening when they gathered to really celebrate their buddy’s death.
Another time, I assisted with the funeral of a rather young man. There were many young people gathered at the grave side. Eddie always warned me about folks who would put on a show rather than grieve. There were several young teenage girls both giggling and crying. They wanted to get close to place a flower on the casket (or maybe pick one). Eddie warned them about standing too close to the side opposite where the chairs were set up.
At the close of the service, after I spoke to the immediate family, one of the staff ushered me to Eddie’s funeral director’s car where I could sit in the air conditioning. As I waited I heard a commotion under the canopy. A few minutes later, Eddie got in the car saying, “I told her not to get too close. I told her.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“She fell in!” he said.
The graves would often have concrete vaults that would not come all the way to the surface because a thick concrete lid would be placed on top once the casket was lowered and then the lid would be covered with dirt and sod. So, the cemetery staff would place boards along the grave edge and cover the boards with green artificial grass. Eddie knew that back side was slippery and there was a gap between the edge of the board and the where the casket had been ill-placed by the pall bearers. (It isn’t very delicate to start shoving a casket around in front of an already upset family, so it sits where it lands.)
Sure enough, the girl got too close and slipped right through that gap and into the grave. She was screaming, “Help! Help!” and some other non-recordable words. Eddie rushed over to her. She looked up and cried, “I don’t know what to do?”
Eddie simply ordered her, “Get Out!”
At the shock of Eddie’s abrupt command, she quickly climbed out and in her embarrassment rushed away as she adjusted her skirt.
Eddie repeated as we drove away, “I told her not to get too close. I told her.” Later as he filled in the details for me he said, “If I would have been all sweet and gentle with her, she would have never got out.”
We laughed about that incident and I still chuckle at the thought of it. And yes, somewhere there is that woman, still going through serious therapy.
Graves are appropriate for the dead, but they are very unbefitting a living person. One day, the Bible says the graves will give up their dead. Why? Because graves were not meant for the living.
When Jesus comes back, there will be the resurrection of the saints of God, called up and caught up to meet Jesus in the air and to forevermore be with Him. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16
Jesus doesn’t come with a whisper or a sonnet or a song. Jesus comes with a shout! I somehow imagine that when the trumpet sounds, Jesus may very well shout, “Get out!” And when He says it, we will do it. A grave is no place for the living.
Read this (daily Bible reading):
13 Now that same day two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 Together they were discussing everything that had taken place. 15 And while they were discussing and arguing, Jesus Himself came near and began to walk along with them. 16 But they were prevented from recognizing Him. 17 Then He asked them, “What is this dispute that you’re having with each other as you are walking?” And they stopped walking and looked discouraged.
18 The one named Cleopas answered Him, “Are You the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” He asked them.
So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene, who was a Prophet powerful in action and speech before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified Him. 21 But we were hoping that He was the One who was about to redeem Israel. Besides all this, it’s the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women from our group astounded us. They arrived early at the tomb, 23 and when they didn’t find His body, they came and reported that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see Him.”
25 He said to them, “How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hearts all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.
28 They came near the village where they were going, and He gave the impression that He was going farther. 29 But they urged Him: “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them.
30 It was as He reclined at the table with them that He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He disappeared from their sight. 32 So they said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” 33 That very hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and those with them gathered together, 34 who said, “The Lord has certainly been raised, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they began to describe what had happened on the road and how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
36 And as they were saying these things, He Himself stood among them. He said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. 38 “Why are you troubled?” He asked them. “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” 40 Having said this, He showed them His hands and feet. 41 But while they still were amazed and unbelieving because of their joy, He asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish, 43 and He took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then He told them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46 He also said to them, “This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, 47 and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And look, I am sending you what My Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.”
50 Then He led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up His hands He blessed them. 51 And while He was blessing them, He left them and was carried up into heaven. 52 After worshiping Him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they were continually in the temple complex praising God.
One prayer to pray with the rest of us.
Lord, use me to help someone understand the wonderful hope of the resurrection of the saints of God.
Today’s assignment, should you choose to accept it.
Think about that coming day when the graves will give up their dead. Think about the glory of Jesus coming for His precious saints. Be encouraged.