Here’s the message I spoke today at the service.
Mabel was a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Her family and friends were of utmost importance to her. Last night, Carol told me how they had such a hard time finding a picture with only Mabel in it. She loved people. Her faith was of utmost importance as well. She raised her children to follow Jesus. She attended the Wesleyan Church for over 50 years, serving in about as many ways as was possible besides being the pastor. She taught Sunday School, she oversaw the missions giving, she was the secretary, she was there whenever the doors were open. Because her faith was so important to her, I know she would want us to have the right perspective on death.
Death catches us by surprise. We see death on the evening news, hear about it on the radio, even grieve with friends, like some of you are doing today. Even though Mabel was weak and tired these last few weeks, I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting to get a phone call Sunday night. No matter how much first- or secondhand experience we have with death, we rarely expect it.
And so our responses to death vary. There is no automated response. Our brains do not tell us the next steps to take after a loved one dies. Historian Franz Borkenau says there are three responses you and I can have to death. And the third one we find to be Biblical, as Joseph will show us in his response to Jacob’s death.
One response we can make is to deny death. Woody Allen is quoted as having said, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” I’d say we all deny the death of a loved one at least some time after they’re gone. And that’s okay, as long as we face reality sometime too. Richard Doss’s book “The Last Enemy” says we deny death for three reasons.
† Psychological Reasons: To avoid the reality of loss.
† Cultural Reasons: We live in a youth-oriented society.
† Religious Reasons: Our nation no longer has a Christian setting.
If you’re denying Mabel’s death today, that’s okay. Just don’t continue to avoid the reality of the situation for too long.
Another response we can make is to accept death. And in some ways this good, in others this is bad. We can accept that a person has passed away instead of denying the facts. Our acceptance will help us as we move ahead with life after Mabel. Though if we stop at acceptance, it can become depressing, like a rut we can’t get out of. “Mabel is dead, what can I do now? I don’t think I can live without her.” Sentiments like those are just as damaging to us as flat-out denying her death. So we must be careful how we live in accepting death.
In fact, our acceptance must be coupled with the will to go on. As one person puts it, our third response is to “defy” death—like Joseph did. Genesis 50:1-13 tells the story of Joseph after his father, Jacob’s death. Let me read it to you.
Read Genesis 50:1-13.
Joseph defied death. When I say that, I don’t mean he conquered it, resisted it, challenged its authority, or refused to admit his father had died. Joseph defied death in how he acted after his father died.
He had his father embalmed, as was the custom. And then he grieved for his father for 70 days. That’s a little more than 2 months. That’s longer than we have spring in Wisconsin. And when he was done grieving he went to Pharaoh to get permission to bury his father. He went, and took Pharaoh’s officials and his family with him. Once they reached the place where they would bury Jacob, Joseph again mourned for seven days.
And in doing all of this, he honored his father’s wishes. Verse 5 tells us that Jacob had made him swear an oath to bury him in the cave he had bought. This chapter also tells us that Joseph forgave his brothers and treated them well. They were afraid he would mistreat them and take revenge now that his father was dead. But he kept his father’s wishes in that too.
Our culture doesn’t really allow for mourning. We may be able to take a few days off work for a funeral, but then it’s back in the saddle. And because we’re not given time to mourn, our mourning lasts even longer. There was once a woman whose husband died in a plane crash and it took her 12 years to mourn his death before she could continue life.
And because of this it can be harder for you and me to defy death — to honor our loved one’s wishes and continue with life. Mabel was a woman known for her liveliness. She was quick-witted, humorous, a born leader. People looked up to her at work, at home and at church. She would want for us to go on with life, and to honor any promises we’ve made. She would want us to mourn her death, but not to allow our mourning to cloud our lives so much that we cannot continue living.
You know, there was another man in the Bible who defied death. But he did so in a different way, because death couldn’t keep Him in the tomb. His name was Jesus. And he called his followers to do the same. Not to mourn and grieve so long that it handicapped them, but to live out his legacy. Mabel lived out Jesus’ legacy. Will we do the same?
Today I took part in my second funeral as a minister. I felt much more comfortable with this one than with the first, mainly because I had gone through the process once before. I know I still have a lot to learn. I’m not that great at knowing when it’s good to bring God into the conversation and when it’s good just to “small talk” or not talk at all.
With so many people in the family, it’s still hard to know who to pay most attention to, if anyone. It’s still funny to hear people say, “You’re the minister?! No way! You can’t be more than 15 years old.” I love that.
The woman who passed away was 87 years old and had been a member of our church for over 50 years. Extremely devoted to Christ and to her family. She will be missed by many of our church family.