A member of my church family passed away last night. He was an elderly gentleman; but please allow the emphasis to fall upon the second half of that coupling, for he was a “gentleman” in the best sense of the word. He was a person who trusted God deeply and who supported his church faithfully. And to top it off, he gave frequent encouragement to me and frequent blessing to my family.
In recent months, health problems had prevented him from attending church in the manner to which he was accustomed. Before that, however, he and his wife were almost always the first to arrive for Sunday morning worship, and they always sat in the same spot in the sanctuary. I had become rather fond of visiting with him before the service began, and I’m going to miss that.
When I became a pastor after many years of doing collegiate ministry, I wondered what it would be like to deal regularly with the reality of death. Bottom line: It’s still not easy. I’m relieved that “doing funerals” has become somewhat less intimidating. And I’m gratified that people seem to be encouraged by the way in which I handle these holy occasions. And yet, especially as I reach a point where more and more of the funerals I do are for people whom I have come to love and respect, there is a different kind of grief that comes with each one.
Thankfully, of course, the Apostle Paul suggested that grief is not a bad thing – and in fact, is probably a good thing. The trick is not to grieve “like those who have no hope.” And especially when I see the way that a Christian gentleman like the one who passed away last night meets death, grieving “like those who have hope” is fairly easy to do.
One of the psalms from today’s Daily Office includes these words, and I offer them here in honor of my friend George. I believe they express the hope with which he lived – and with which I, too, desire to live.
Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight. (Psalm 43:3-4)