The poet, James Whitcomb Riley, has a poem in which he tells of the death of a worker
in a shop. He pictures his fellow workmen standing around on the day of his funeral
talking about him. One man, tears in his eyes after saying some complimentary things,
added, "When God made him, I bet He didn't do anything else that day just set around
and feel good."
Morning Glory, January 8, 1994.
Keep us, Lord, so awake in the duties of our calling that we may sleep in thy peace
and wake up in thy glory.
When you're old as I am, there are all sorts of extremely pleasant things that happen
to you...the pleasantest of all is that you wake up in the night and you find that you are
half in and half out of your battered old carcass. It seems quite a tossup whether you go
back and resume full occupancy of your mortal body, or make off toward the bright glow you
see in the sky, the lights of the city of God.
Malcolm Muggeridge, Christianity Today, Sept 3, 1982.
Funerals of pastors are solemn affairs. At times when I attend one, however, I am
struck by a strange kind of irony. After a lifetime of ministry supposedly focused on
grace, we bring the poor soul to his grave with eloquent eulogies and high tributes that
give the lie to it all. All the deceased's good works are magnificent and, of course, all
shortcomings passed over. I am often reminded at such times of Lincoln's remark at the
burial of one of his generals: "If he had known he'd get a funeral like this, he'd
have died much sooner." It is our vexing temptation, isn't it, not only in death but
throughout life. We think we are a gift to God himself instead of remembering that
ordained ministry is a gift to us.
God buries His workmen, but not His work.
When John Todd, a nineteenth-century clergyman, was six years old, both his parents
died. A kind-hearted aunt raised him until he left home to study for the ministry. Later,
this aunt became seriously ill, and in distress she wrote Todd a letter. Would death mean
the end of everything, or could she hope for something beyond? Here, condensed from
The Autobiography of John Todd, is the letter he sent in reply: "It is now thirty-five
years since I, as a boy of six, was left quite alone in the world. You sent me word you
would give me a home and be a kind mother to me. I have never forgotten the day I made the
long journey to your house. I can still recall my disappointment when, instead of coming
for me yourself, you sent your servant, Caesar, to fetch me.
"I remember my tears and anxiety as, perched high on your horse and clinging tight
to Caesar, I rode off to my new home. Night fell before we finished the journey, and I
became lonely and afraid. 'Do you think she'll go to bed before we get there?' I asked
Caesar. 'Oh no!' he said reassuringly, 'She'll stay up for you. When we get out o' these
here woods, you'll see her candle shinin' in the window.'
"Presently we did ride out into the clearing, and there, sure enough, was your
candle. I remember you were waiting at the door, that you put your arms close about me--a
tired and bewildered little boy. You had a fire burning on the hearth, a hot supper
waiting on the stove. After supper you took me to my new room, heard me say my prayers,
and then sat beside me till I fell asleep.
"Some day soon God will send for you, to take you to a new home. Don't fear the
summons, the strange journey, or the messenger of death. God can be trusted to do as much
for you as you were kind enough to do for me so many years ago. At the end of the road you
will find love and a welcome awaiting, and you will be safe in God's care."
A few days before his death, Dr. F. B. Meyer wrote a very dear friend these words:
"I have just heard, to my great surprise, that I have but a few days to live. It may
be that before this reaches you, I shall have entered the palace. Don't trouble to write.
We shall meet in the morning."
Mrs. C. Cowman, "Consolation," p. 70.
C.H. Spurgeon poignantly stated it this way: "A good character is the best
tombstone. Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you. So carve you
name on hearts, and not on marble."
Steve Farrar, Family Survival in the American Jungle,
Multnomah Press, 1991, p. 48.