The End of the Beginning
The basic, ethical foundation of the funeral profession is to care for the living, by caring for the dead. Funerals, understandably, are not actually for the dead, but for the living. We certainly mourn death. We share memories and hope. We celebrate lives well lived. We seek both to give and receive comfort. However, we do all this, not for those who have died, but for those they leave behind.
When I was in my twenties, I had the opportunity to go to work for a prestigious, old funeral home in the small, central Florida town where I grew up. I started my career simply enough, cleaning carpets, waxing hearses and limousines, and getting up in the middle of the night when a death occurred. In the early days, it was simply a job to tide me over until something better came along, but then something rather unexpected happened. As time went on, I really began to watch what the funeral directors did for our community. They helped people in desperate need. They made a difference. They changed lives. Every. Single. Day. I had a calling. Here am I, Lord. Send me.
Even when you are called, there is a lot of preparation. It was a long, hard road. I went back to school for a degree in funeral sciences. For several years, all my time was spent studying or working or both. I sat for national and state board examinations and served an exhausting internship. And then one day all that hard work paid off. I was officially one of them. It was a long hard road, but it was nothing compared to what was waiting ahead.
I meet people at arguably the most difficult times of their lives. I have stood with shaken husbands and trembling wives as they stared down through a blur of tears into well-loved faces for one last moment. I have walked countless children to the graves of their parents and entirely too many broken parents to the graves of their children. I have held tightly to those who would otherwise have fallen. I have become intimately acquainted with the horrendous aftermath of the horrors of war and cancer, addiction and suicide, hate and desperation and the simple but inevitable passage of time. Death is coming.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. Romans 5:12 (NKJV)
I made a promise to myself years ago. If my work ever stops affecting me, I will no longer be effective at it. I never suspected that this work would become my ministry. I never expected a ministry to be so exhausting, consuming and depressing. There are days when I simply can’t do it anymore.
This kind of service takes its toll. About once a year, I want to walk away. I feel all used up. I am a failure. I have failed at everything I have ever tried. I’m a failure as a son and brother, as a husband and father, as an employee and employer, as a friend and certainly as a funeral director. I have absolutely nothing left to give.
Then God steps in. I never know when it’s going to happen. It just does, and always when I need it most. I meet with a family to make funeral arrangements, just like I’ve done thousands of times before, and something different happens.
At some point in our time together, God makes Himself known. It may be during the arrangement conference or it may be during the funeral service a few days later, but one or more members of the family will take me aside to talk privately. They will tell me that I am an answer to prayer and that I am exactly where God wants me to be.
My Father reminds me that I am not defined by my failures, but by the righteousness of Christ. That’s all it takes. That sweet reminder that I have been called for a purpose, His purpose. Here am I, Lord. Send me. My time here on earth is but a drop in the vast and endless ocean of eternity. Death is coming.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 (NKJV)
Death is coming, but in Christ, we can face it with joy and the blessed hope of promises to come. Death is coming, but so is an eternity where eye has not seen and ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things God has prepared for those who love Him. Death is coming, but so is the King.
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words. I Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18 (NKJV)
We were created for eternity. When we are in Christ, death is not the end. It is simply the end of the beginning.