As I write this, I’ve just found out that one of my first cousins died in a fiery car accident. Early speculation is that he suffered a heart attack and crossed into the other lane, hitting another vehicle head on. When something like this happens, a myriad of thoughts, memories, and feelings flood one’s soul.
He was seventy-one. Tragically, two other people died in the accident if I understand the early reports correctly. This kind of event really drives some things home for me (and I suspect for anyone who goes through them).
As a pastor of thirty-five years, I’ve done dozens (maybe hundreds) of funerals and memorial services. Beyond the ones I have led, I’ve attended many more. Times like these seem to bring forth a flood of clichés: He’s in a better place; He’s with the Lord now; At least he went quickly; He was a great guy; He would have enjoyed seeing us all together; and on it goes ad nauseum. I’m not sure how much comfort any of these sayings give to people, but I guess they became cliché for a reason.
I will say, however, the most memorable responses to anything I have ever done in these types of situations are the ones when people say, “I’m so glad you’re here.” It was not that I said the right thing (even when I was preaching the funeral). It was not that I waxed poetic on the subject of death and dying. A lot of those times, I basically said nothing at all. But the fact that I was there with a hug, and maybe a tear, seemed to make all the difference.
I guess it stems back to the incarnate Christ. What I mean by that is Jesus came to be with us. He shared our grief and misery. He could have done things much differently, but he chose to be one of us and to be among us when things were tough. Our own presence in someone else’s life mirrors the incarnation. We’re there in the flesh for each other.
It’s not that words aren’t important. Our words can certainly express our love and condolences. But our words will not be the most important thing. We can put our arm around someone’s shoulder and say, “Jesus loves you.” But even that wonderfully assuring statement can ring hollow at times. So we gather together to be there for each other. After all, we are one of them just as Jesus was one of us.
I said before that this kind of event drives some things home for me. One of the things it drives home is that I could be next. I’d like to hang around for a few more years, but I’m not assured of that. I’m reminded of another old cliché. Life is short. I suggest we go out there and live our lives like they mean something…because they do. Rest in peace Cuz…