I’ve been thinking about funerals since hearing over the weekend of the sudden death of Rachel Held Evans, a popular Christian author, blogger, and speaker. Among many Christians, she was quite controversial because of some elements of her theology and her uninhibited willingness to write and talk about those beliefs. I wonder if in her early years of notoriety there were friends and family who turned against her because of her not-so-conservative views, given she grew up in what would be termed a fundamentalist Christian home and attended a conservative Christian college?
I don’t know when hers will be, but I wonder if there will be people coming to her funeral that had broken fellowship with her. So often this is the case—people have a dispute and never resolve it, yet will show up to pay their respects upon their death when they had refused to interact with them in life. I remember hearing of an uncle who lived in my hometown, but whom I had never met until he came to my father’s funeral. At some point in their lives, my dad and his brother had a falling out. My uncle only felt motivated to meet my father’s family once my father had passed away.
There is something final in death that awakens us, pierces us with a certain reality that the person will never again be among us in this life. I once met Ms. Evans at a conference just after her first book was published. We had probably a one-minute conversation and then I followed up with an e-mail. Yet, with such a minimal interaction, the news of her death shocked and saddened me.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear of the death of someone I know, even if it has been years or even decades since I had any interaction with them, I am affected by it. They are gone and I will never see them in the flesh again. There is a permanency to death that penetrates deep.
I guess that’s why funerals have been on my mind, as has anyone who may for whatever reason have something against me that has led them to end communication with me. I wonder if they will come to my funeral or send my wife or family condolences on their loss. I suspect some will. Which begs the question, why would one come to a funeral or send condolences after having refused to set things right when the person is still alive?
Funerals, as my wife has reminded me when I have told her in general what I want for my funeral, are for the living, not the dead. They’re gone and won’t be around for it. So trying to make amends for a broken relationship by attending a funeral is far too late. The person with whom you are seeking to reconcile is not available any longer.
Given the polarized nature of our culture right now and the “flame-throwing” on social media toward those who dare disagree with us, here is some advice for any of you who are holding grudges against certain people: None of us are guaranteed another breath in this life. As it did for Ms. Evans, death can come quickly without notice. Those people toward whom you hold bitterness or unforgiveness may not be around by the time you decide reconciliation is needed. As followers of Jesus, we are called to a ministry of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18-19; Philippians 4:2-3 ; Colossians 3:12-14) The time to pursue that is now. You don’t want to be caught with your only option being to attend a funeral. By then, it doesn’t mean much and will only deepen your guilt of not doing something sooner.
© Jim Musser 2019