The most powerful emotional moment of our Lord and Savior’s earthly life are captured in two words: Jesus Wept (John 11:35). This is the shortest verse in the bible. Upon learning of Lazarus’ death, Jesus did not rejoice because his friend was in a better place. He cried. And he did not just shed a tear. He lost control and sobbed from the depths of his soul.
The pain of separation by death of a loved one can be profound. Psychologists place the natural limit for the number of people the human brain can connect with deeply enough that their death would leave one devastated at around 12. This would place Lazarus in what they term Jesus’ sympathy circle. His sisters referred to him as the one you love in the message informing Jesus of Lazarus’ illness (v. 3).
I have experienced it once in the passing of my ace boon coon, sista from another mother, number one friend, Neptina, the day before her 30th birthday. She succumbed to colon cancer. Neptina and I first met when she transferred to Smothers Elementary School. We cut up together in Sunday School. We played in the band together at Kelly Miller Jr. High. We assembled our wardrobes together in the stores of downtown DC. We shared bad luck in romantic relationships. We pursued our respective careers with intensity. We came into full faith around the same time. She was me and I was her. I didn’t even realize the place she occupied in my life until she was gone.
Her death was so earth shattering that I collapsed to the floor upon hearing the news and I could not compose myself to pay fitting tribute to her during the service. Even her pastor cried throughout the eulogy. It was tragic. Her passing made no sense. A decorated police officer, athletic physical specimen, devoted daughter, loyal friend, and saved soul should have been allotted more days upon this earth. Surely the world would be better off without some other people still among the living. But even the very hairs upon your head are all numbered (Matthew 10:30).
My cousins just buried their father this past weekend. Our extended family gathered in its hometown of Rocky Mount, NC to bid my uncle adieu, bless his memory, console one another (and get some awesome barbecue). Why in the world did this fool of a minister stand in the pulpit and say “this ain’t no funeral, this is a celebration”? Excuse me, but your daddy ain’t laid out up front in a box. The asinine ideas that catch on in the church astound me. Let’s consult Webster’s Dictionary:
1. the ceremonies for a dead person prior to burial or cremation;obsequies.
2. a funeral procession.
3. of or pertaining to a funeral: funeral services; funeral expenses.
4. be someone’s funeral, Informal . to have unpleasant consequences for someone: If you don’t finish the work on time, it will be your funeral!
My bible says:
Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
The first biblical account of a proper burial is recorded in Genesis 23:19. Throughout scripture, we find individuals and communities grieving losses and performing rites befitting the occasions. Even the law establishes protocols for handling corpses. Death is a sacred moment so it is only fitting that the funeral be a solemn occasion to honor not only the dearly departed, but also their loved ones’ journey from sorrow to joy.
The eulogy is also not the time to speculate on the deceased individual’s eternal destination. The term is derived from the Greek root eulogio, which means literally “I bless.” This is the opportunity for the preacher to speak highly of the deceased and share special memories. Preach like you’re praying their way into heaven. It is not the time to break out generic notes and insert their name in the blank. If a pastor has been on his or her j-o-b, he or she should have something to say about the quality of an individual’s life, spiritual and otherwise. Is that too much to ask?
If one more jackleg preacher tells me to put on a happy face as I mourn, it will be their funeral. We must be careful not to be bulls in china shops on occasions such as these. Walking on holy ground requires one to remove one’s shoes and to tread carefully. Grieving is a complex and delicate process warranting respectful handling.
Jean Paul Sartre got it right in his description of Christianity as a breeder of psychosis, the mental disorder characterized by gross detachment from reality and the inability to function in it. Religious sensibilities dictate that we act ecstatic when sinking into despair, feign enlightment when confounded by life’s challenges, and shout amen at nonsense while our spiritual needs go unmet.
That’s one of the reasons I believe the church is so crazy and not living up to God’s purpose for it. We must be true to our feelings and not pretend to be something we are not. God knows where we are and cares enough to provide adequate grace to get us where we need to be. Only let us live up to what we have already attained (Philippians 3:16). You have God’s permission to keep it real. Anyone denying you that right, my friends, would be a crying shame.