Funerals: celebrating life

I have seen a lot of coffins, but I had never seen a coffin decorated with piano keys and music notes. Handles for the pall bearers were chrome cylinders attached with piano strings. I liked it. A lot. It was a tasteful expression of Eric’s love for music. While no professional musician, guests spoke of how he listened to, and drank in, and played music on a daily basis.

Before the casket was lowered, instead of throwing in soil, or laying a flower on the casket, people chose a piece of chocolate from a bowl, and placed it on top. I very deliberately placed by piece on B-flat. I don’t know that Eric was so into blues, but it suited my mood on the day.

Later, at the service of celebration, there was a tasteful mix of grief and laughter. Some of Eric’s children spoke, some performed musical pieces, his pastors spoke, guests spoke (more about that tomorrow), and once again, profound hope was expressed in music and song.

I have also seen funeral celebrations turn into a form of crass denial. Where it’s all made out to be a party, where banal humour and christo-pagan superstition permeates proceedings. “Yeah, I bet Bob’s up there now, beer in hand, looking at us all down here, wondering what all the fuss is about and when we’re all gonna get back to work…”

We can all do without that. And really, funerals do more harm than good when they trivialise life like that.

At Eric’s funeral we wrestled with life and its wending course. Together we sought to make sense of Jesus’ claim to be resurrection and life. We did that through our tears. And we celebrated everything Eric had brought into our lives, the talents he used to serve others, the expertise he brought to his workplace, and his quirky style of humour, we were celebrating the work of an extraordinary God in the life of an ordinary man.

But celebration? Seriously? How can you walk out of a funeral more in the lightness of hope than the heaviness of grief? This is the reality of Jesus’ life in us. His is a promise of hope, of life, that cannot be extinguished by death. This is what we have in the good news. When that deep celebration and profound joy resonates, even from a grieving community of followers, resurrection joy is palpable.

This is what we should celebrate at a funeral. How we have seen God’s life come to expression in this person. How we have seen beauty. How we have sensed a pursuit of justice and right. How they showed us a healthy spirituality. How we have learned about relationship, how others have been valued, honoured, and served.

Memories like anchor our affirmation in God’s work of grace in the life of another. We’re reminded that the Gospel is not just a religious idea or a doctrine to be intellectually accepted. It is an invigorating, transforming reality. When these transformational realities take root n a person’s life, they anticipate the new world Jesus will bring: God has already started his work of transformation in his people. Proof positive that Jesus is renewing minds, attitudes and values, and through them bringing change to his world. One life at a time.



Thoughts Occasioned by a Funeral

Last week we buried Eric. He was a fine person. A good man. A great follower of Jesus. And the first of my youth group generation to die. All that has got me thinking.

I met Eric in 1973 when I started attending his church in Blacktown. My parents had been solid in their faith for years, and had recently decided to switch churches. The church they chose was were Eric and his family attended. I was at a stage in life where I was making big decisions about life direction. I wasn’t being particularly principled about it. I was just in ‘default’ mode. When you are 15 years old, and your parents attend a church where there are no kids your age, there are always going to be more attractive options on a Sunday morning. I did not know it then, but I was at faith’s fork in the road. My parent’s decision to switch was a life saver. The life that was saved was mine.

Looking back now, I see how God used Eric, and a few others, to draw me into faith and followership. They helped me belong. They draw me into a small group who opened the Bible and sought to find its relevance for our lives. It was great. It was real. I came to see how following Jesus could be fun, exciting, and a rich broadening of what it meant to truly live.

At Eric’s funeral I remembered all this. I remarked how we shared a love for music, and great bass lines. He was into keys, I was getting into bass guitar. I remember now that he loved a good Monty Python line. And he loved his trail bike (he had a Kawasaki 250 or something). He let me ride his bike. He even let me ride his bike when I fell off it.

I don’t think Eric was my closest friend, and probably was not his closest friend either. Even so, it was the community, the friendship that Eric and others provided, that became the soil God used to nourish my faith. I am incredibly thankful for that. And I was blessed to have the opportunity to say so at Eric’s thanksgiving service.

Eric was the first of that generation of friends to die. Many of those present had made the same comment. It has given me reason, not only to reminisce, but also to consider life and death, and some of the important aspects of what it means to follow Jesus in such a time as this.

I hope my thoughts will be of value to you.