As Christians we believe that we will spend eternity in God's presence, and so because of the redemption that comes from Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, we need not fear dying. I have therefore taken the view that as long as the will and the life assurance policies are in place so that my family is taken care of, I'm not particularly worried about what happens to me.
Now don't get me wrong - I'm not being foolhardy about this. I do buckle up when I get into my car, and even though my trusty Vuka can only reach 80 (unless I lie flat behind the handlebars on a long downhill, in which case I can squeeze 90 out of it), I make sure that I am wearing my helmet and a sturdy pair of jeans. And given a choice in the matter, I'd like to go to bed one night at the ripe old age of around 90, and wake up in the arms of Jesus. However, as for my body, the Organ Donor Foundation must use whatever bits they can, and Wits Medical School can have the rest.
Life should be a celebration that extends beyond death, and many of the funerals that I have been involved in during my fledgeling ministry have been just that. Sure, people are hurting - after all, they are saying goodbye to someone whom they love dearly, and my take on this is that if you don't hurt, you didn't love. But for the most part, such services are a celebration of a long and fulfilling life.
However, this all changed for me this past Sunday, when one of our stewards called me to visit a family that had just lost their baby of 9 months old.
This is the one aspect of our calling that I believe no minister wants to do. When I drove to their house, it was all I could do to choke back the tears. It's just not fair - people aren't supposed to die until they are past pensionable age. What made this particular situation even worse for me is that the child's mother had been coming to baptism classes only two months ago, and it was only four weeks ago that we as a church had the privilege and pleasure of celebrating the baptism of both mother and child.
It also highlighted yet again just how inadequate I feel as a minister. After all, what does one say to parents who have lost a baby so young? Yes, I know that Jesus had a special place in His ministry for children. And yes, I know that children are blessed, and theirs is the kingdom of God. But yet the words just seemed so empty as I visited with the family on Sunday. Not having lost a child, how can I possibly begin to understand what these parents are going through?
Tomorrow I'll be conducting the funeral. And even though "cowboys don't cry, especially in front of their congregations", if the tear stains that are already on my order of service are anything to go by, I'm afraid I'll be breaking this rule...