As the congregation watched him walk past the casket and reach for the microphone the pastor held out, nobody was prepared for what came next.
“Well, what can I say? The guy was a jerk! In school he made fun of people who weren’t popular. Adulthood didn’t change him much and if anyone ever opposed him, he’d end up in a fight. You couldn’t count on
him; if he said he’d help, it was just to get you off his back because he almost never came through. If he borrowed money, you might as well kiss it goodbye. He was all about Jim, all the time. His family–yes, those of you in the front two rows today, I know you washed your hands of him years ago because he was so mean. And he couldn’t keep a job for any length of time. Frankly, he was so lazy that he only seemed happy when he was out of work. Except for his six-packs, he had no pasttimes, passions, or plans. He was a waste of oxygen and we’re probably all better off that he’s gone!”
Ok, that didn’t happen. It never does.
No matter how much of a scoundrel is being buried, funeral tributes are usually so glowing that people wonder if the deceased is up for sainthood. Then again, sometimes the honorifics aren’t inflated. He/she so wanted to please the Lord that it was hard to miss how keenly mindful he/she was of the next life. Recently at a friend’s birthday party, friends and adult family members gave high praise to the birthday girl. She was embarrassed, but I know her well enough to know that what they said was true. Nobody pretends she’s perfect, but she lives this life keenly aware that the next one is imminent.
Discussing his brain tumor, Senator John McCain recently told CNN’s Jake Tapper, “Every life has to end one way or another.” Whether it ends prematurely or late in life, John’s right: sooner or later everyone stops breathing. In Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, habit #2 is, Begin with the End in Mind. He urges readers to imagine hearing the kind things people say about you at your funeral. The motive seems to be “live so that people will admire you when you die”. Begin with the end in mind.
God also wrote about keeping the end in mind in His Book but His “why” differs radically from Covey’s. It’s not to gain people’s applause when we depart, but to gain God’s when we arrive …each person is destined to die once, and after that comes judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Admittedly, some reading this think, “I’d better be good so that if I die, God will let me into heaven”. But it’s not a person’s goodness that God judges, but our response to His goodness–to the gospel of Christ’s atoning death that He’s offered (Acts 20:21). Then again, because the person who has repented of sin and put faith in Christ for forgiveness has the Spirit, he/she lives life in ways that show he/she is mindful of the end.
It’s beneficial not just to live knowing life will end at some point, but that it could be as early as tonight. Some think it morbid to ponder death and its repercussions, but again and again the Bible urges people to do just that. In fact, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes says we’re better off attending funerals than parties (7:2). It reminds us of our imminent face-to-face with God, that we are not of this world, to store up treasures for the next world instead of this one, and that what seems to really matter today, won’t when our casket closes and is lowered into the ground.