Death has a way of sobering you up.
I attended a funeral this morning for a member of our congregation, Patricia. Even though I’ve been in the Messianic movement since childhood, I’ve been in leadership just a few years, and this is the first death within my congregation. Worthwhile to record these thoughts while they’re fresh.
Patricia and her husband, John, have attend our congregation for only the last 3 months. I knew Patricia only a short while, but her death and funeral brought me tears. Funerals have a way of doing that, I guess, as a person’s life is retold through teary descriptions by the people closest to that person. Unless you’re some stone-cold, jaded mind, it’s difficult not to be moved when you hear this stuff.
Though Patricia had lung problems for several years, I didn’t grasp the seriousness of her condition until recently. The whole congregation prayed with her a few weeks ago. When I prayed and laid hands on her, I asked frankly and sincerely of God to have mercy on this servant, to spare this daughter of his. At least one of the families in our congregation was continually praying for her healing.
So, when John, Patricia’s husband, came into our congregation this past Friday night and announced his wife, Patricia, had died, it was tears and weeping all around. Prayer and tears.
I remember each time I saw Patricia, even if she was in a wheelchair, weak, and eventually sporting oxygen tubes, she had this joy and light in her face. Her countenance. Religious people like to put on faces for people. Happy faces. Everything’s-ok faces.
But the light and the joy that was in Patricia’s eyes and face was not something that could be faked, you know? Something real and authentic about that. It’s rare.
In the short time I knew her, Patricia, even in her wheelchair, had been sharp as a tack. I remember how she tested us – when we sang songs like, “How I Love Your Torah”, she would question us afterwards, “You love all the Scriptures, do you not? And isn’t Yeshua the living Torah?” She regularly tested our beliefs and measured them against the Scriptures. Turns out, as I heard today during the funeral, she was more zealous for the Scriptures than I knew.
At the funeral this morning, I discover Patricia, a former agnostic-turned-follower-of-Yeshua, had, in her zeal for the Scriptures, learned Greek and Biblical Hebrew in order to better understand the Scriptures in their original language and to search things out for herself. You wouldn’t know this because she was never one to puff up her knowledge or make you feel beneath her. Humble woman.
This morning, I almost didn’t want to speak to the husband, John; I didn’t know what to say to him. I thought back to Dr. Schiffman’s post how speaking the wrong thing to a widower can be worse than speaking anything at all. There’s nothing a person can say to make sweet the certain bitterness of losing your spouse of 40+ years.
When I saw John in the entry way, his eyes caught me, and I felt compelled, out of obligation, to go over to him. I had no idea what to say. He thanked me for coming. I told him it was no problem, and that I was glad to have made it. I asked him how he was doing. He told me alright, though the months to come would be the hardest, seeing as how his wife of 40 some years was now gone. I nodded my head.
At the funeral, several folks spoke towards her being zealous for the Scriptures, some described her as an old-fashioned Bible thumper, even. Her children said, “Mom always said ‘One day you’ll bless me for all this’, and we said, ‘No way mom, you’re always just preaching to us!’ But here we stand today and we say, “Thank you, mom, we bless you!”
Nearly all the stories told of Patricia this morning were of her zeal for the Lord. Even so, too many people might just dismiss all that as funeral niceties, not real world stuff. In my short time of knowing Patricia, she lived up to the words people were speaking about her: zealous for the Scriptures, faithful to Yeshua, even to the end. I wanted to get up and tell people that’s a real and accurate depiction of her.
Each person will eventually face his death. In a quaint funeral home perhaps, with a soft-spoken chaplain, your family and friends telling stories about you through their tears. Maybe they’ll talk about your life, your friendships, your ambitions, your professional life.
Those things are nice and all, but they don’t make a dent in the universe, and in time, they’ll all be forgotten. Even when famous people do famous things, they, too, will eventually be forgotten. Given enough time, even Steve Jobs will be forgotten, and all his amusing gadgets will be dust.
But if there is something that will not be forgotten, it will be the work you do for the Lord. God is timeless. If anything at all will be remembered, it will be your faithfulness to God. God, the timeless God, will remember your work.
I hope that when I’m the object of the funeral mourning, and the people I love are speaking about me, I hope the things they’ll remember about me are the eternal things, the things Patricia is also remembered for: her zeal for the Scriptures, her faithful-to-the-end devotion to Yeshua.