This morning, I received an email from one of my weekly e-letter subscribers. It was a joke that got my day started with a good chuckle. Since I’m conducting a funeral later this morning, a smile on my face was a good way to begin my pre-funeral routine.
The joke reads as follows:
A preacher on his deathbed summoned his doctor and his lawyer. They came, and he asked them to sit on either side of his bed and hold his hands.
They sat thus for a long while until the doctor stirred and said, “You don’t have long on this earth, Reverend. Can you tell us why you asked us to come?”
The old preacher stirred himself wheezed and said, “Well, Jesus died between two thieves, and that’s the way I want to go too.”
With a deathbed joke behind me and a funeral in front of me, it was an easy segue to the subject of this blog. Where else could I go at this point?
I don’t know about you, but I occasionally think about how I’d like to die. I also give ponderings as to what the odds might be that I would die in a completely different way than I desire. I confess, however, I think about this option with far less frequency. It can be a very unpleasant train of thought.
“We don’t get to choose…”
My choice, unlike the dying preacher in the funny story, would be to go peacefully in my sleep. I’ve known that to be the end for several people, and it seems like the way to bow out of this world. Still, we don’t get to choose.
Some have told me their desire is to die for Christ. This offers up some really drastic imagery for me. My mind’s eye tends to conjure up visions of crusaders and sword battles. I realize dying for Christ is not limited to tenth-century knights, but it seems to be what comes to mind.
Once, when someone told me that he wanted to die for Christ, my immediate retort was that you can’t die for Christ unless you’re living for him. I don’t know if I was correct in that assessment, but it sounded good at the time.
“It seems to catch us by surprise.”
Death is such a weird phenomenon. Sometimes it’s welcomed, other times it’s tragic. Always, it’s a time of mourning for someone (I think). Even when we’re ready for it, it seems to catch us by surprise.
This morning’s funeral will be a celebration of the life of a saint. She lived to be ninety-six years of age and was more than ready to go. She intimated more than once, she wanted to go home to be with Jesus. Her death was not a surprise and it was the culmination of a life well lived.
I have always considered it to be a privilege to preside over such a funeral service. I relish the job of preaching the hope we have in Christ—even when there are no thieves around.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]