MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, June 22nd. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. In death, the meaning of life can become more clear. Here’s WORLD commentator Andrée Seu Peterson with a selection from her 2008 book, Normal Kingdom Business.
ANDRÉE SEU PETERSON, COMMENTATOR: Thank God for funerals, the one place left where non-churchgoing America comes touching close to truth. The best of them cut to the chase, boring down to bedrock theology like a 17th-century Scottish Lord’s table preparation pep talk: “The Lord’s Supper is coming over the Cairngorms to your town next week; you’re either in which Christ or out, make up your mind, laddie!” cries the circuit rider.
None of this modern style of waiting till salvation is on the liturgical calendar before bringing up the subject. I am today a black speck in a sea of well-wishers; Cheryl was a much-loved lady, I surmise, though a mere acquaintance to myself. I stifle a tear as I peer through heads at two stoic teenage boys I never knew owned suit and tie.
Waiting for the interminable greeter’s queue to end, some have lapsed into talking about business, vacation plans, and the best manicures in town. This is not offensive to me, as I prefer it to officious sullenness, yet I cannot help drifting to the scene in Live and Let Die where a feckless bystander cranes his neck over crowds at a New Orleans-style funeral down Bourbon Street and asks who the corpse is, only to be unceremoniously stashed into the casket himself. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
There is surely warfare going on in this clerestory in the invisible domain, like Michael and the devil over Persia. Some malevolence inhabiting the incense would keep us all sleepy and okay with death.
The devil whispers to the priest and the priest recites obligingly to the assemblage: “Death is not life cut short, but is one of life’s phases.” He informs us, with breathtaking confidence, that Cheryle is at this very moment “looking down at us with a tear and a smile.”
At this the bad side in the rafters breaks out in cheers.
A moment later the same priest says, “Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life,” and the good side cheers, those angels whom we are told are ministering spirits for the sake of the redeemed, and who rejoice when even one sinner repents and turns to God.
Paul tells us in Acts 17 verse 26 that God has orchestrated everything about our lives with the intent that we be confronted and hemmed in with opportunities to seek him. A funeral is such a rendezvous in our frenetic lives to make us think about what’s real.
And this is why, even with sub-par sermons, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, for the heart of the wise is there.” And so I believe.
We file out through the vestibule and I can only hope that something in the hour’s lifting of the veil has made a small impression that will last beyond the masses passing through the door.
I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.