Her husband was an alcoholic. Her seven children were in and out of relationships, addictions and jail. And she had done her best to live for Jesus in the midst of all the chaos.
“Preacher, we would like to have her funeral in the church since she loved it so much, and we would like you to have the service” her husband said. “Would that be okay?”
“Of course we can do that, and I’m honored to have a part in it” I replied.
I knew that this funeral, just like every other funeral that a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, chaplain or lay leader is asked to perform, is a sacred trust. It is a time to celebrate a person’s good qualities, to learn lessons for those living and an incredible opportunity to share Bible truth and the hope of a resurrection and reunion at the second coming of Jesus. Don’t waste the opportunity!
Solomon said, “You learn more at a funeral than at a feast— After all, that’s where we’ll end up. We might discover something from it.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2 The Message Paraphrase).
At my request I met with all the relatives the night before the service and listened to them share stories from her life. I took notes in the corner of the room and recognized that this was good therapy for them. I also asked if I could borrow her Bible to use during the service.
The next day at the service I shared some simple stories from her life and brought out lessons that we all could learn. Then I went into my appeal.
“Our loved one, Doris, is now sleeping in her grave. The Bible describes death as an unconscious sleep more than fifty times (e.g. Psalm 13:3; John 11:11-14). But someday soon Jesus will burst through the sky and wake her up (John 5:28-29).”
“Paul describes it in the Bible in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. ‘The Lord Himself will descend from heaven…’ He doesn’t send Gabriel in His place. He doesn’t want His saints to wander into heaven one by one. No! He comes here to lead the parade home Himself!”
“’The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ,’ including Doris I believe,* ‘will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.’ As Doris flies to meet Jesus in the air she is going to look around for each of you. She wants all of you to be there, flying to meet Jesus, too.”
“Some of you might be saying, ‘There’s no way I’ll make it. My life is a mess. I’m not good enough. But Jesus says none of us are good enough. ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).’ ‘But while we were still sinning Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)!’ ‘The wages of sin is death- that’s what we all deserve- but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).’ Don’t leave this place today without saying to Jesus ‘I know I’m a mess, but you died for me. I want you to be in charge of every part of my life.’ And Jesus loves to hear a prayer like that and He will help you! And those of us at this church are happy to help you, too, because we all need Jesus every day of our lives.”
“Won’t Doris be thrilled to see you as you all fly to meet Jesus in the air? Let’s plan on it. Let’s accept Jesus now so we will be happy to see Him then. Let’s invite others to accept His invitation too. ‘Comfort one another with these word.’”
Over the next few weeks I took a recording of the service to each member of the family and offered Bible studies. Only one showed any spiritual interest at the time. But now, almost twenty years later, more than half a dozen relatives and close friends have been baptized and look forward to that great day of rejoicing, resurrection and reunion, when with Doris they will fly to meet Jesus in the air.
* If there isn’t much evidence for a person’s conversion and surrender to the Lord, I will say this before quoting 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18: “God is a loving God. He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). I believe that everyone who would really enjoy spending eternity with Jesus will have a chance to and anyone who wouldn’t enjoy it will not be forced to.” For those with non-Christian religious backgrounds see this article for items of hope to share- Why Not Try This? … Recognize How God Saves Those Without Scriptures.
Blessings to you,