Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Reflections on the Funeral Service: What Do I Know?

Sara Groves: "What Do I Know" from the album Conversations
The Song Which Opened the Funeral Service:
I have a friend who just turned eighty-eight and she just shared with me that she's afraid of dying. I sit here years from her experience and try to bring her comfort. I try to bring her comfort, . But what do I know? What do I know?
She grew up singing about the glory land, and she would testify how Jesus changed her life. It was easy to have faith when she was thirty-four, but now her friends are dying, and death is at her door.
Oh, and what do I know? Really, what do I know?
I don't know that there are harps in heaven, Or the process for earning your wings. I don't know of bright lights at the ends of tunnels, Or any of those things.
She lost her husband after sixty years, and as he slipped away she still had things to say. Death can be so inconvenient. You try to live and love. It comes and interrupts.
And what do I know? What do I know?
But I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord, and from what I know of him, that must be pretty good. Oh, I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord, and from what I know of him, that must be very good.
What do I know? That question pulses through my mind as I watch a grieving family with expressions of sorrow mixed with a sense of numbness walk down the same aisle at church I walk down joyfully each Sunday morning. What do I know? I wonder as I see a mother who looks like she is about to faint make her way into the pew and sit with her husband by her side. What do I know? I judge I know very little as I see a room full of weeping people--more populated than any Sunday morning church service--and the room becomes hazy, blended, collided. I recognize the faces of the director of my kindergarten from nineteen years ago. My elementary and junior high principles who I befriended in the nine years I attended their school. My grade school gym teacher, Mrs. Jukinitz, who my classmates and I jokingly referred to as "Mrs. Juggle-Nuts". The music director of my junior high in front of whom I tried out for advanced choir with butterflies in my stomach. My third grade teacher who still remembers my name after all these years. My fifth grade teacher who everyone was afraid of and supposedly made a kid lick up dirt from the floor. My high school biology teacher whose tests I failed but somehow managed getting a "B" in the class because he knew I worked hard. My ninth grade health teacher who also coached volleyball, my favorite sport. The single Bible teacher who every high school girl had a crush on, momentarily forgetting he was more than ten years older than us. Then there were students I knew, and their parents. Students who I mentored; students who I went to church with; students who I grew up with. They were all there. My worlds collided. But the occasion was death rather than life. So many people I knew, but what do I know?
Laurel's funeral service was beautiful. One and one-half hours of testimony to the godly woman God molded and formed her to be. Friends shared happy memories, and other shared regrets they had because they had not expressed to her their admiration of her before she died. Her faith was definitive of her life, and many in the audience loved God deeper because of her testimony. I sat in the pew and prayed that none of this would be in vain. I prayed that God would bring beauty out of this horrific tragedy. I sat and asked myself, "What do I know?"
To reference another song, there are times "I have to say the words I fear the most: I just don't know."* I do not know why God would take the life of a twenty year old engaged woman who loved Christ deeply and served Him wholeheartedly. I do not know how the tragic and unexpected death of someone they loved can bring those in the family who don't know Christ back to Him. I do not know how her parents will find the strength to go on from day to day, or how her little siblings will fare without their big sister.
But I do know one thing. God is good and God is loving. "I can only see a part of the picture He's painting. God is God and I am man, so I'll never understand it all. For only God is God."* To His wisdom I submit. His plan I embrace. Laurel fulfilled the mission she was born to accomplish.
I may not know fully, but right now she does. Praise God, she knows.
"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
~The Apostle Paul, I Cor. 13:12~
*Lyrics from "God is God" by Steven Curtis Chapman from the album Declaration