“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” NRSV John 14:1-7
If you have been to any of the funerals I have officiated, the text above will sound familiar to you. My article this month will not be very long… However, this article may be one of the most important ones that I’ve written.
We generally use June and July to allow us to re-create and be re-energized. So, I’m going to use this opportunity to allow us to take a breath and address something that we will all have to face…yes every single one of us.
Over my five years here at FPCLC, I have been honored and blessed to be able to participate in many a celebration of life. Some of the celebrations are full blown with hundreds of attendees and some are quiet, personal and private ones. However, they are all worship services. Whether they are performed here at church, at the graveside, in the Columbarium, or even at a funeral home, the Celebration of Life, Service of Remembrance, or Funeral Service, for us Presbyterians, is a worship service.
No one really likes to think or talk about death (so why are you talking about it Ken?). There is a finality and a feeling of sadness and sorrow in the thought of losing someone close to us (I know that I have avoided such discussions). Those feelings are exactly the reason why we need to carefully plan and discuss what we want.
Death comes as a shock to us. Yes, we know it is inevitable, but it is always shocking. It is a solemn and mysterious human experience which brings to us painful separation from friends and family. There is solace, there is good news…the bold claim that God in Christ is the victor over death. Isn’t this the very foundation, the center of the Gospel? I believe that every single declaration made in the New Testament is the Easter message; up from the grave He arose! It is a message that is meant for every single day of our lives and it should remind us that WE SHARE in this resurrection power. We place the very foundation, rock, of our faith in the fact that we will be raised to a new and eternal life with our risen savior and are cast into God’s very presence. In fact, doesn’t the Apostle Paul expound to us that not even death is able to separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ?
So, even though we are returned from dust to dust, our souls immediately go back to God who gave us our very lives. Sins forgiven, infirmities cured, and made perfect in God’s holiness. We will behold the face of God in light and glory! We sit with God and the communion of saints.
Our faith, therefore, about death should drive our sense and opportunity to celebrate our lives and help others to overcome their grief. Our convictions and our witness should be no clearer than in that celebration of a life! In fact if we look at the Book of Order, we will find that the guidelines offered to us, tell us, the funeral should be a service of worship in which God’s people witness to their faith in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, and in which also the assurance of God’s love and salvation in Christ is ministered especially to the bereaved. Think of the great hymns of faith; “For All the Saints”, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” … “Glory be to the Father”. There are no other times where the words of our Creeds can be proclaimed with such a depth of faith. Think about it, “I believe …in the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting!”
As worshipers we participate in the celebration and the service. We are not just observers; we listen, we learn, and we leave as we are sent by God to do ministry. It is one of the distinguishing marks of the Presbyterian church, so it should be at the funeral service. God sends God’s word and heals our broken hearts so that we can declare the hope and give testimony to Christ’s victory and the promise of sharing in that victory. That all being said, our hope is not based on the goodness of the deceased but on the goodness of God. So, it is inappropriate to “eulogize” a person. The words from Psalm 124:8 come to mind, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. God is our refuge and our strength. I am the resurrection and the life.” What better words of comfort are there?
So, what does your worship service look like? What scriptures would you like read and preached on? What hymns would you like sung? Where would you like your celebration to take place? Do you want an open casket and a viewing? Do you want an expensive casket? Do you want to be cremated? If so, what kind of vessel do you want? Do you want to be in a vessel or do you want your remains scattered somewhere? Do you want to be placed in our Columbarium? What kind of civil service, if any, do you want after the worship service? Do you want Tim to play his famous renditions of “I’ll Fly Away” or “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”? Who do you want to participate in the worship service? Do you want flowers? If so what kind? Do you want a reception? Do you want to contribute to or set up your own endowment ($10,000 minimum for a named fund)? How would you like people to witness to their belief and faith? You have the opportunity to plan all of this!
This planning process will help you consider other things as well. How about living wills, advanced directives, and who gets to make those choices? My hope is you already have your Last Will and Testament drawn up but in case you don’t…I know some really good lawyers! Do you know where your important documents are and better yet, do your loved ones? How about your bank accounts and investment records? Passwords? Titles to your vehicles, property, and deeds? Here’s one…. your birth certificate! Do you have an attorney and what might their name be?
Included in the Press this month is the booklet that we have on our website (FPCLC.org) and now is in your hands; “Preparing for the end of life…FPCLC.” I believe it is one of the most comprehensive church documents that we possess. I do! Several people have spent countless hours, days, and months on the information. It is ordered (such a reformed idea!) and helps you organize your thoughts. This booklet is prepared for you and your family so that in the time of deepest pain and when time is short to make lasting decisions, we can help you map out your journey for your loved ones.
The loss of a loved one tests our faith, our family ties, and our very core. The folks at First Presbyterian desire to assist you, walk alongside you, and offer comfort, compassion, and strength. The ideas in this book are written just with those purposes in mind. There are many suggestions, recommendations, and guidelines that can ease some of the burdens and chaos your loved ones will experience.
In the booklet, we have included some forms to help guide your thoughts and to consider the areas you and your family may need to address. When emotions are raw, things tend to get lost and items of importance fall within a very large spectrum. Family stories and remembrances are clearer when you have time to plan. Favorite hymns, scripture verses, and participants in the service are not left to chance.
The most important aspect of this booklet is something that doesn’t show up in print but exists and is ever present; that is God’s peace and presence. God’s reassurance, hope, and love. God does hold you in the palm of God’s hand. God will carry you through, our God walks with you always, but when you are experiencing the “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” moments, God will help you rise from the darkness into the light and love of Jesus Christ. This is especially true for those of us that are left here after you have departed.
Remember, you are not alone! We are here for you, I am here for you, and can assist you in any way needed. In case you find yourself in immediate need, please call our office at (386) 752-0670 or after normal hours call me at (215) 327-2854. I offer my time and services to help you plan your celebration of life so that we can relieve your loved ones of the trauma of planning instead of grieving. Please come and see me, make an appointment or call me to discuss your wants, requirements, and needs!