What Do We Remember At Funerals?

I've never thought so much about death until I became a Hospice Chaplain. I'm afraid I never thought so much about life until I became a Hospice Chaplain. If you could do one thing in the next 30 seconds to live more fully, what would it be? Take the next breath and hold it, briefly, taste it, roll it around in your lungs, allow your mind to focus, and let your stomach exhale it for you as you let your inner muscles do their work.

That breath, that life, that moment, is all we have. It is a gift, just as you yourself are a gift.

I came across this as I was preparing a message for the tragic death of a young lady.

In his book The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction, the American novelist Frederick Buechner has this to say to us:

Whatever you do with your life–whatever you end up achieving or not achieving– the great gift you have in you to give to the world is the gift of who you alone are; your way of seeing things, and saying things, and feeling about things, that is like nobody else’s. If so much as a single one of you were missing, there would be an empty place at the great feast of life that nobody else in all creation could fill.

The funeral sermons I write today are more nuanced than ever before. They used to be for church going, religious folks. I had confidence that they lived the kind of life that would guarantee them a place in heaven. That has all changed in the last few years.

So many people die without that confidence when their time has come. I have had to shift my whole way of thinking about what is important to remember at ones funeral. It comes down to this. Now I spend more of my time, 15 or 20 minutes of it, by sharing how God has been working in the life of the one who just died. I used to focus mostly on What God has done in general for all of us. I always put in a good word about the deceased of course, but now I have become more focused on what God has done in and around the one we mourn.

Sometimes its hard to find any evidence that God has had much to do with them, at least by normal religious markers. This has only made me look for God in other places and dimensions. Buechner seems to get this. God is at work in every person, all breath is His, and whatever has breath is to praise Him as the rightful giver of life. I continue to believe that God will have His way and will with those of us whom He has been working in and around. I just don't think we have been remembering the right things all the time and it's time we start asking ourselves, what do I want people to remember at my funeral? Did I do something, or did God do something in I? Take your next breath and think about it.