A Funeral For A Friend, Part II
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 The pivots[K] on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph[L] touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” — Isaiah 6:1-8, NRSV Yesterday, I had to officiate at the funeral of another young man, who died prematurely and tragically. As per usual, I faced the task, with resignation and dread, as I contemplated the stupidity and senselessness of it all. Nevertheless, I prayed that God would use me and the other funeral personnel to offer comfort, perspective and hope to the participants, especially the family. Another mother and father, brother and sister have to deal with the death of someone who should still be with them, by all rights. What do you say at such a time? After all these years, God always gives me the right thing to say, but it’s never easy to say and I suspect it can be hard to hear, although I pray it’s helpful and healing. A broader issue for me was this: What do you say to surviving friends and family who do not share a Christian outlook and do not find the Christian life particularly useful? How do you connect with them? Thankfully, I was not the eulogist. The eulogist, for whom and with whom I had prayed, did a masterful job weaving together ugly facts, raw feelings and real faith. Later on, I asked a friend of mine, Dr. Leslie Braxton, how he deals with such moments as the eulogist. He admitted how hard such funerals are, though we both have both done them and will do again far too many times. We both concluded that at such times the focus must be on comforting the family and helping others make sense out of what has happened. In other words, our task is to help the audience exercise their faith tools, which enable them to see the inner connectivity between the past, present and future. As I continue to think about all of this, I’m reminded of the passage which describes the Prophet Isaiah’s call experience. Uzziah, the king for whom Isaiah worked and to whom he was personally close, had died recently. His death was not only traumatic, but it’s marked a transition into a season of uncertainty and malaise. No one knew what to expect next. The nation appeared confused and conflicted as it mourned the loss of its key leader. More specifically, Isaiah was despondent and disorientated as he grappled with the implications of his boss’ and boy’s death. Then, one day, he chose to go to church. That one decision proved catalytic, pivotal and transformative. While in worship, Isaiah discovered what you and I can, too: 1. Death will not only take loved ones away from us, but God can use it to draw us closer to him. 2. Death can be disorienting, but God can use it to open the door for us to a whole new dimension of life. 3. Death marks the end of a old relationship, but God can use it to guide us to a new role and/or a new sense of purpose. I’m only spit-balling here, but could it be that Isaiah’s closeness to the king may have hindered him from being the conscience of the king and the champion of King of Kings, God? Was Isaiah so close to Uzziah that he was comprised as a servant of and spokesperson for God? I don’t know. In fact, I’m not sure anyone other than God and Isaiah know the answer to that. Still, God can and does often close the proverbial curtain on one act, which may be devastatingly painful, then raises the curtain on a new act, which may prove wonderfully exhilarating and empowering. If you are in the house of mourning, like Isaiah, go to God’s house, where you will be able to find perspective, power and purpose.