Free Sample of our Eulogies
Death by Cancer
When I was in seminary there was a picture hanging in our library that I will never forget. I have long since forgotten who the artist might have been, but the message was indelible. It was titled "The March of Death" and pictured death marching through the throngs of humanity calling, at will, whom he chose. He called the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the well and the infirmed. There was something else in that picture I remember and that is that there were those kneeling by the roadside, pleading to join his march, who were passed by. It seems to me that the message is clear that although death is indiscriminate, death finally does come to us all, and some of us may even welcome its coming.
However, it makes a difference under what circumstances death calls us as to how we react. If death comes to a very young child, we react in anger; we are even so bold as to question how a good God could allow this to happen. If death comes to one in the prime of their life, our reaction is one of shock and alarm, but inevitably someone will be heard to say, "When it is my turn, that's the way I want to go, while I am active, with my boots on." If death comes as a result of a catastrophe – fire, earthquake, flood – although we are sympathetic, our reaction is one of frustration, for what could we have done to prevent it?
But this is not the way death has come this time. The way death has visited us now causes us to, at least, mingle our sorrow with the reaction of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for the life we knew her to have had; thanksgiving that for her the day of pain is over; thanksgiving that God, in his mercy, allowed a peaceful end.
But our thanksgiving does not veil our mourning, for indeed the rending of our hearts at the loss of love and memory is as old as humanity itself.
Some years ago there were two English explorers who discovered the sarcophagus of a little girl, estimated to be 4,000 years old. When they translated the hieroglyphics on the lid it read: O my life, my love, my little one; if God had willed, I would have died for thee!
So mourning is indeed ancient and our search for relief is equally ancient. Those of New Testament times are no exception. Paul, in writing to the Philippians, says that "Death is the desire to depart and to be with Christ." Taken in and of itself, there is comfort in that passage, but when we understand that to which Paul may have been referring, it brings us even more solace.
For you see, in Paul's day, the word depart literally meant to "break camp," and he must have been making reference to those nomadic people who surrounded every city's gate; who, at the command of the head of the tribe, would break camp and move to a place better for them. Now the people in those tents were not dead. The tent was simply collapsed so that they might move on. So it is in the life of a Christian, when the tent in which we are living is collapsed. We, too, are then free to move to our eternal home, a place better for us.
Having said all of this, may I confess to you as well that at the final analysis it is a very difficult task for a pastor to try to fashion into words the meaning of the life that we here honor. So, if you will forgive my being personal, may I share with you, not my words, but the words of my father, who along with ____________, shared the same generation, the same dedication to hard work and simplicity, the same love of music and God's creation.
It happened this way. Shortly before his death, he was asked by his home pastor to write a daily devotion during Lent to be shared with the rest of the parish. In that writing he told of a day that spring, when he was in our basement sprouting potatoes, getting ready for spring planting. And he said, as he looked at those potatoes in the box, they were old, they were wrinkled, and in some cases they were moldy. And for those who would know no better, they would conclude the potatoes were useless and should be thrown away; but he saw in them a sprig, a sprout, that when planted, would come to life again.
Then he said something very interesting. He said: "Some day soon people will look at me in a box and I'll be old, and I'll be wrinkled, and for those who know no better they will say, 'He is dead.' But don't you believe it, for there is a sprig and a sprout, that when planted, will come to life again."
The Lord gave and now the Lord has taken away. Let us thank God that, when we are part of death's procession, he steps forward and takes us into his procession of life.