And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:42-43
It was a cool, rainy, September afternoon. I was standing in a cemetery with two other men. One was a funeral director, who was kind enough to hold an umbrella over my head. The other was the chairman of the congregation that I had been called to serve four months before.
I was newly called and newly ordained. I had graduated from seminary that previous spring and my wife Nancy and our dog, Seamus, had moved to Michigan where I would be ordained and installed as pastor of Christ Lutheran Church.
While I thought I knew just about all there was to know about being a pastor, the reality was I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know!
It was my first funeral as a pastor. As it turned out, this funeral wasn’t even for a member of that congregation!
The deceased was the brother of the chairman. I didn’t know the chairman all that well. I didn’t know his brother at all.
Yet the chairman asked me to bury his brother. I ask him about his brother. He led off with, “He was never baptized.” He then told me that his brother was a good man. He never did anything really bad. He took care of his family.
But all I heard was, “He was never baptized.”
The Rite of Christian Burial – which I was familiar with only by study during seminary and not by personal experience – begins with baptism! It is immersed in the hope and certainly of eternal life that comes first to us through baptism.
How was I supposed to officiate at the chairman’s brother’s funeral knowing he was never baptized!
It was then and there that I learned something very important about funerals.
Funerals are not for the dead. Oh, there’s a dead body or remains involved, to be sure.
But funerals are for the living!
And Christian funerals are full of the hope that only comes from Jesus Christ for the living.
I couldn’t speak about the sure and certain hope of eternal life for the chairman’s brother. We were left with more questions than we had answers: Did he believe in Jesus and not have time to get baptize? Did he hear about Jesus and believe in him as his Savior right before he died (and again, not have time to be baptized)?
It is possible. We have a perfect example of this very thing happening in Luke 23 when one of the criminals crucified with Jesus confesses his sin and his faith in Jesus. Jesus promises eternal life to him.
But I had no answers then. I could only point the living, the survivors, to the living God who assures us that we will live forever because the Holy Spirit brought us to faith.
I closed that committal with this prayer from the Pastoral Companion (a book formerly known as The Little Agenda and is used by pastors in cemeteries, hospitals, nursing homes and such):
Father of mercies and God of all comfort, be with the family of his name who has died. Graciously comfort them in their grief and surround them with your unfailing love that by your Word and Spirit they may be strengthened and preserved in the true faith; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
©2017 True Men Ministries