For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by
steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
--Romans 15:4 NRSV
This week I am officiating two memorial services (Gary Montague and Billy Porter). It’s a nearly impossible task to try to honor the life of someone in such a service. There really is no way to say everything that could or even should be said about a person. The whole reason we have rituals like funerals and memorial services is to attempt to express the deep truths that words can never fully articulate.
I’m not surprised when family members are daunted by the task of what to say about a loved one when the minister asks what they want to be included in a funeral or memorial service. I know their silence is not a lack of love but rather finding themselves overwhelmed by the moment. Words seem inadequate. So, we lean on scripture, prayers, poetry and other time-tested aids to assist us in giving voice to the cries of our hearts.
When loved ones of a person who has died do have a favorite scripture passage, a poem or stories to share, such readings end up being a comfort for all who hear them at a funeral. As the minister, I am especially glad to hear when the one who has died had a favorite Bible verse. Sometimes family members find it underlined in their loved one’s Bible. Other times it is on a greeting card that was kept and affixed to a bedroom mirror or refrigerator door where it was seen every day. The most special are when spouses/partners, children and friends hear the verse repeated by their loved one as they endeavored to live out its truth in their lives.
I guess in our social media age, parlor games of years past have become hashtags of “What would you. . . ?” You know, the question games like “What book/food/movie would you take with you to a deserted island?” A similar one asks, “What would you want written on your tombstone?” As someone who has officiated dozens of funerals and memorial services, I would add to these sort of question and answer games, “What would you want read at your funeral?”
For some people, the answer might be a favorite poem, a letter written to a loved one, a line from Shakespeare or a passage from a favorite book. For a person of faith, the answer might include a scripture verse or two. What would you want your loved ones to remember you by?
For the record, I’d like Romans 8:38-39 read at my funeral:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NRSV)
Not only would I want my loved ones to be comforted by the promise that nothing can separate us from God, I’d hope that at least once or twice they experienced me living as if these words were true for my life. At my lowest and when my faith was most lacking, I have clung to these words as if they were a life preserver, the only thing keeping me from going under,--because their assurance probably was the only thing keeping me from being overwhelmed by the troubles in this life.
Take it from a minister who does funerals, memorial services and graveside services on a regular basis, you are not only doing a favor for the minister officiating your service but offering your loved ones a great gift when you make clear what you would like read at your service. Who knows? You may discover that those words are not only worth having read after your death but also words to read while you are alive. Those sacred words may be worth living out each precious day you have in this life and not just after your life is over.
Grace and Peace,
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.