God's Word for today

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Being called to do what no minister wants to do

I have never been a morbid person when it comes to death. It is, after all, an inevitable consequence of the passage of time, and something that all of us need to face at some point.

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...

1 comment:

Fat Prophet said...

I read this post and like you had tears flowing down my cheeks- as you say it is very sad and I am sure must be the most difficult thing a minister has to do, however I would like to share something I heard over 20 years ago from a minister in the Congregational church in Birmingham (England. He was known as the Raving Reverend by many people but was a man who would take his socks off and give them to you if you didn't have a pair or give you his coat. He ran a battered wives refuge and ran a narowboat that took mainly disabled children on day trips around the canals in Birmingham. He was a man I greatly admired, I worked on the boat for about 9 months and he introduced me to the books of Dennis and Rita Bennett which I found fascinating - he was also instrumental in me being baptised by total immersion.
Anyway the point of this post is that one day we had been chatting about death and funerals and some of the amusing things that can happen - like the family who dug the grave themselves and dug it round - and we wondered on to the topic of deaths involving children and how he dealt with this - his response has always remained with me because like you he said this was surely the most difficult part of his calling and he knew all the usual things and felt that somehow they were inadequate. He told us that one day he had been called to visit a family whose child had died and while he was praying about what to say he said that God has spoken to him and said 'What would heaven be like without the sound of children's voices'. He apparently shared this with the family and they had said they found it a great comfort in their darkest times.
It is something I try to think every time I read or hear of the death of a young life.