I’ve been meaning to write this for awhile, it’s been over a year since the events I will describe happened, so ya, it’s been bugging me for awhile.
I went to the bedside of a man who was dying. He was a member of my congregation, but not really. Ya kinda one of these deals. He had pretty much just walked away a few years before I got there, and while I had visited him at home, he frankly kind of abused that too and I called a stop to the home visits. But now he was dying and didn’t have another pastor and I couldn’t turn my back, regardless of his questionable decisions.
I am doing my best to get this man focused on Christ as my parishioner goes through his last moments on earth. While I am with him, the man in the next bed is also in his last few hours. In romps his 20-something pastor, suitably attired in shorts, baseball shirt and wearing his baseball hat, backwards. It used to be customary for a man to at least remove his hat in a hospital, certainly in the presence of a dying parishioner. It was pretty obvious that this guy wasn’t really concerned, didn’t want to be there, didn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation. He certainly wasn’t the least bit concerned with the dignity of the pastoral office, or the dignity of the dying. He was doing what he had to do and then to get on to what was really important, the softball game he was on his way to.
Oh yea, I can hear those oh so open minded souls out there clucking their tongue at me: “It doesn’t matter what he’s wearing, it doesn’t matter what his attitude is, you’re just an old fuddy-duddy”, although I’m sure they would probably call me something much more colorful. Nevertheless Ms Free Spirit, how would your attitude change if it was your faithful, much loved grandmother/father, on that bed, expecting to be faithfully served by their pastor? Oh yeah, your tune would change in a trice. Just a truly classless, move on the pastor’s part, but frankly that’s where our culture is well on its way to. We’re really not concerned with the dying, they’re just kind of a nuisance, a chore to handle, not a person in pain and fear. I often do feel a little at a loss when I’m in the presence of the dying (I’ve had a lot of experience, 29 years active and reserve in the U.S. Coast Guard, five years of ministry, averaging 5 funerals a year). And for most of the big box churches, death just doesn’t fit into their message. Afterall, if that person had more faith, he wouldn’t be dying????
Speaking of baseball, apparently the parishioner was a regular attendee at the local college baseball team’s games. OK, good for him, I’m a baseball fan, I should try to get to more of the local teams baseball games myself. Lutheran worship is not about eulogies. It is about the person faithful in Jesus, and His church and how Jesus has saved Him and also intended to be a message to those in attendance. You need to really pray that God is merciful and will save you too. I very bluntly told people who asked, that any eulogies would be after the funeral service.
This may sound a little harsh, but good call on my part. The eulogies lasted longer than the funeral service. They were all about how this man showed up at every game to score the game. OK, nice, certainly worthy of mention. But it was essentially the topic of every eulogy for about a half hour. (At least the interment went on in a dignified manner, there really weren’t that many people there.)
There was little mention of his work, and essentially none of his life in Christ, just college baseball. Hey fine, we all want to be remembered for our unique life, but I, want to be remembered for that unique life as a servant of Christ. It’s not that any life is more or less worthy, as long as it’s in Jesus.
As a Coast Guard Petty Officer I was both a United State Law Enforcement Officer and also a member of the Armed Forces of the United States. In both capacities the uniform conveyed important messages. As a police officer to assert control, protect anyone from harm and to neutralize anyone that constituted a threat. The more I asserted power and authority through my uniform and weapons, the more seriously I would be taken and the less likely other people, me included, would be hurt. If I looked less than professional, than I would not be as capable of asserting control, I would not be taken seriously and other people might be more in jeopardy. The same principal as a pastor. The more I appear as a serious representative of Christ, what I say about Jesus, the more I symbolize Jesus and His promises (the black shirt, suit, the white collar, the prominent cross/crucifix) all assert things about my relationship with Jesus, how I represent Him to others. This is taken seriously and the intent is to comfort those who are going through trauma, up to and including death. Anything less than that trivializes you, trivializes Jesus, trivializes the comfort that you are trying to provide to those who are going through their final moments and to those who will be left behind to mourn his/her loss.
There’s a time and a place for casual clothes and conduct, playing, games, jump around singing. But we have to make time for the dignity of a human life, to honor and respect the person who is dying or dead. We have become such a frivolous world, “hey, don’t want nothing to harsh my buzz. Need to make this as easy as I can, I don’t want to be uptight.”
Sure remember happier times of their lives. But please if you can’t think of more than one limited capacity that person was in, don’t camp on it over and over. It takes it from an interesting aspect of one’s life, to overdoing it to the point of being a tragic waste of life. Death is a time to remember what Jesus does in our life, in our death and in the eternal life of the resurrection and to remind others that it is about what Jesus has done for us. Let’s not trivialize it.