It’s not about the dash.
I just got back from a “Christian” funeral and burial. The daughter of one of my prospects died very suddenly. I attended both the wake and the funeral to support the prospect’s family. I did not preside, and am rather glad I wasn’t asked – the daughter had chosen not to come to worship nor have me visit, despite several offers. How could I lie about her and say that I knew she was in heaven? I heard neither profession of faith nor saw faith in action.
The family got a “mercenary” pastor, as I call them – someone willing to preach for pay for whatever situation.
The funeral itself was… inoffensive, which by itself offended me. The pastor chose the account of Jesus raising a young man to life in the city of Nain:
11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
14 Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” (Luke 7:11-16)
This is a great text for a funeral sermon. The pastor told the story well, bringing in some cultural touchpoints. And then… nothing. He didn’t explain how Jesus came to save sinners and broken people. Not one word was said about the cross. Nothing about Jesus rising from the dead. No comfort. No law. No gospel. Just a story from the Bible.
I get that the pastor may have actually (gasp!) not said more than he was able to say. But then, simply do a presentation of law and gospel so that those that are mourning have hope for what Jesus did for them, huh?
(Incidentally, this is one of many reasons why I’m not a mercenary pastor. I will preside at the funeral of my members: people I know and can confess: “This person was a sinner! Jesus died for this person! Jesus prepared a place for this person!”)
At wakes, it is very common to have some piece of poetry in a little card with an obituary. Here’s the poem that was used:
When I’m Gone
When I come to the end of my journey
And I travel my last weary mile,
Just forget if you can,
That I ever frowned
And remember only the smile.
Forget unkind words I have spoken;
Remember some good I have done,
Forget that I ever had heartache
And remember I’ve had loads of fun.
Forget that I’ve stumbled and blundered
And sometimes fell by the way.
Remember I have fought some hard battles
And won, ere the close of the day,
Then forget to grieve for my going,
I would not have you sad for a day,
But in summer just gather some flowers
And remember the place where I lay,
And come in the shade of evening
When the sun paints the sky in the west
Stand for a few moments beside me
And remember only my best.
(No author attributed)
Looks so nice, doesn’t it?
Don’t you love how it only adds pressure to the survivors and offers no comfort? “I would not have you sad for a day.”
That’s right. If you’re sad that your loved one is gone, you are disappointing them. If you’re sad at the funeral, it’s because you’re not doing what they want. If you are sad it is because you are not good enough to do what the deceased wants you to do.
Also, forget the bad things. If you remember anything bad about the person, you are disobeying them.
Oh, also the poem confesses that this person “won ere the close of day.” Because they suffered so much. Because they stumbled. Because… just because. Because they’re dead. And dead people win, apparently.
Nothing at all about Jesus.
Isn’t Jesus so much better than this crap poem?
Here is a Savior who weeps. Here is one who walks beside you as you suffer, not telling you to pull yourself together and pretend to be happy. Here is one who knows what it is to lose a loved one and wept at his grave – and then called him out alive!
Here is one who didn’t forget your bad things – instead, he suffered for them. He took care of your sins.
Here is one who is the victor over death. His battle ended there – Death was overcome! He suffered everything you actually deserve, and still he chooses to love you and share his victory with you!
But this poem? It offers no comfort. None.
Look, when I die, if anyone posits anything like this poem, I give you full permission to punch them in the face.
Lovingly punch them in the face.
Remind them: I am a sinner. There is nothing good in me. I did nothing to reach heaven. I didn’t earn it by suffering or being a good whatever. I deserve hell. Jesus died for my sins. I was united to him in my baptism, when he created faith in my heart so that I trusted him as surely as I trusted my mother’s arms. And because I am united with him in his death, I will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
Listen: My funeral should not be about me.
Make it about Jesus.
And then… then we got to the burial. And the pastor chose this text rather than any Bible verses:
by Linda Ellis copyright 1996
I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.
So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?
“What matters is how we live and love/ and how we spend our dash.”
Seriously. Is there anything more offensive to a Christian?
Is it wrong to aim projectile vomit at a false prophet?
Oh, you’re not offended by the poem?
All right. Try this on for size. If “nothing matters more than how we live and love”… how are you loving today?
Sure, you love your kids, your spouse, your parents. How about the guy who flicked you off? How about the man who hurt your daughter? What about the jerk teacher? What about the person who dared tell you that you did the wrong thing? You loving them perfectly?
How are you living? Really? Perfectly? Because that’s the metric Jesus gave. “Do this and you will live,” Jesus said of the commandments. And he said things like, “If you’re angry with your brother, you’re guilty of murder. If you look at a woman you’re not married to and you think about her naked, you’re guilty of sleeping with her.”
If what matters is how we live and love… we’re screwed.
My dash doesn’t matter.
What matters is Jesus’s dash.
He’s the one whose life and love was perfect. He spent his dash perfectly. He never failed once. And… and he gives me his record?
Jesus’s dash is so much better than mine, and he gives me his dash. My dash went before his death date. He’s the one who suffered.
This poem? This dash? Once more, no comfort! What’s the message of the poem?
“Do better. Your death date is coming, so do better. You’re in the dash, but your death is coming. Try harder. Do more. You’re not good enough yet.”
What does Jesus say?
“I was good enough. Sinner, you have my record. Now, you are a saint. Be at rest.”
Jesus wins every day.
Once again, if anyone tries reading this at my funeral, evangelically punch them in the face.
I am a sinner.
I was damned.
I could not please God.
I was his enemy.
Jesus lived, died, and lives for me.
He has given me life.
He is the hero of the story.
Don’t you dare make me the hero. Don’t you dare. If Jesus lets me, I will get up from the casket to bite you in the neck and prove to you that I’m the bad guy.
Or, rather, I am the prisoner who was set free. The wretch that was saved. The enemy soldier given mercy.
It’s about Jesus. It’s not about the dash. It’s not about faking being happy.
It’s about Jesus.