Four funerals and a warning
Faith & Inspiration | Friends don’t let friends go gentle into that good night
by Andrée Seu Peterson
Posted on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, at 5:12 pm
I went to four funerals in eight days—Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday again. My father says I need to find a younger group of friends. He’s 92.
I’m not a funeral reception crasher, although I did discover that would be easy enough—nobody knew me at three of the funerals, and depending on whom I was talking to, I could have declared myself a friend of one side of the family or the other.
At the third funeral, a woman I sat with at the luncheon said, “Well, you have your three.” Momentarily forgetting the upcoming fourth one, I didn’t challenge her superstition.
One of the services was for a neighbor who was very old and had outlived her friends. Her son, perhaps fearing an embarrassing turnout, came across the street and apologized for cursing my husband and me out loudly last year, and then invited us to the funeral. I thought that took a lot of guts and gave him a hug. There are potentially good things about funerals.
We don’t have to even guess about that, for as Solomon wrote: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). God is all about apprising us of the coming wrath (Matthew 3:7): Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. Paul wrote, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone …” (Colossians 1:28). John the Baptist depicts an “axe laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9). Time to check your fruit and see if you have been kidding yourself and drunk the Kool-Aid of cheap grace.
Warning is a note that has all but disappeared from the modern gospel presentation. Jonathan Edwards didn’t gloss over it, and he has been mocked by daintier people ever since. (Read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” at least once in your life.) Hell-embarrassment has made Christians slouch into tolerance of every kind of forbidden behavior that God says will not enter the kingdom. Friends don’t let friends go gentle into that good night. They warn: “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3). The wise are “cut to the heart” and reply, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
Feuding over a parent’s September remarriage, and related inheritance questions, cast a pall over one of the funerals. What should have been all-too-brief honeymoon years for the elders had been marred by offspring greed. One stiff-necked son soon died in a freak traffic accident. Ours is not to draw conclusions on particular cases, but Paul warns us about unworthily receiving the elements: “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died” (1 Corinthians 11:30).
There are other hard sayings in the Bible too: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60). Jesus was not against attending funerals but against thinking you can follow Him on your own terms, and when you have more time.
At the first funeral brunch, an octogenarian woman was sad because her children could not work out their schedules to find a day to come for Dad’s 86th birthday, which was therefore canceled. They shall no doubt think better of that later at their leisure.
There is a wonderful story in the Bible told from two perspectives. From the west side we see freaked out Philistine pagan priests, who can’t get rid of their troublesome war booty fast enough—loading the Ark of the Covenant on a cart with replicas of gold tumors and mice for appeasing Israel’s God, watching two yoked and driverless milk cows head straight for Beth-shemesh, neither turning to the left or to the right. From the east side, we see Israelite farm workers quietly plying in a field, suddenly spotting on the horizon a driverless milk cow–drawn cart carrying home their pride and joy.
I think funerals are like that. On our end there is mourning and a bit of freaking out. But on the other side, where angels unseen wait, they take what we hand off to them and celebrate a long expected homecoming.
Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine and the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.