How one man re-realized the power, the importance and the blessing that is held in each opportunity to weave The Gospel back into our lives.
Build your life as if it were a work of art.Abraham Joshua Herschel
I was setting up for a funeral. As I was helping with the sound and the video, I felt like a church sexton, taking care of the flock behind the scenes. I had created a slide show with the decedent’s picture and a graphic which read “Trygve Grayson Forever in Our Hearts…” with his birth and death dates.
A couple showed up early and were milling around at the lectern. I assumed the man was the pastor. He was in his late sixties, perhaps 70. I walked up to him and introduced myself. He declared, like he was shouting his authority, his cred, “I have done a lot of funerals but not here in this country.” I asked him in which country he had done all these funerals, assuming maybe he was a military chaplain. He replied, “We were missionaries in Japan for several decades.” I said, “Really, my parents were missionaries in Japan, too. What mission were you with?” He named a mission I had never heard of and promptly forgot.
He called over his wife, then asked which mission my parents were with. I said, “The Navigators.” “You’re kidding! We were in the Navigators before we moved to this mission. We were in Shizuoka.” His wife exclaimed, “That’s remarkable. What was your father’s name?” “Bob Boardman,” I replied. “You’re kidding, The Bob Boardman?! I still listen to his ‘If I could live my life over’ sermon on the Navigators website. Well, what do you do here?” I told him I was a funeral officiant/celebrant and handed him my business card with the preposterous M.Div. title.
“What a wonderful opportunity to preach The Gospel!” he exclaimed.
I took a breath, straightened my back, and looked away. His words had such a tinny, jangling ring to me. “Well, my role is to help the family honor their loved one,” I said, then excused myself and walked away. During the service, as I watched this fan of my father speak, I thought maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss his words.
Maybe he was right. Surely, to love and honor the dearly departed is spreading The Gospel.
So, what is The Gospel? To well-remember the dead with gentle affection and respect? To gather together and tell stories, the good news, of our loved one? To feel the absence of them so acutely that we cry out to God and to each other?
The Kingdom of God is right here, broken and in disrepair, but somehow still present when we are rightly present with one another. It’s when we use words, however inadequate they are, to comfort one another and to assure those left behind that their precious one is beside their still waters, wherever that may be. The Gospel is in our hugs and in our tears. The Gospel is in the music.
The Gospel is in the artwork of the embalmer. The Gospel is in the holy water we sprinkle on the casket. The Gospel is in the handful of dirt we scoop up and rain down on our person in their blank space.
The Gospel is in the backhoe driven by the Mexican immigrant filling the soil tight to the casket vault. The Gospel is in the Repast we share after the service is over, recounting the stories of the dead and how they live on forever in our hearts. Yes, I thought, the man was right. My father and I both sculpted our lives around a shared mission: to spread The Gospel and have The Gospel preached back to us. What a wonderful opportunity, indeed!
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