"A Memorial Service celebrating the life of..." Such words may begin the printed program. The content of the service provides the context in which the life is celebrated. The opening words of the Call to Worship set death in true Christian perspective: "The Eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms." "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted."

The comfort of which Jesus speaks is a strengthening within. 'Fortis' the Latin root of the English word means 'brave, strong.' Divine comfort comes not from inward focusing on feelings which are shifting sand, but on an outward looking to the strength of the unchanging Eternal, the Rock from which our life line comes. The opening hymn points this direction, stressing the purpose of our gathering: worship of the God without whom we are helpless and hopeless in the face of death:

"O God our Help in ages past,
Our Hope for years to come..."

Whatever words are used, humility before God is the only attitude that finds divine strength. Faith is humility's hand outstretched to grasp the life line. And the life line is there. Its many strands are in God's revelation in the experience of others who faced life and death as do we, and supremely in Jesus the Christ whose uniqueness is set forth in the Scriptures. So we read: "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want...yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me..." And from the Psalmist to Paul: "For we know that God who raised the Lord Jesus to life will with Jesus raise us also." "For I am persuaded that...nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." To Jesus' own promise, "I go to prepare a place for you...That where I am, there you may be also...I am the Way...Peace I leave with you...Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

It is the living Spirit of Christ present in the worship that gives all such words their power to hold and support the trusting mourner. And they do. What we believe is that mortality is transcended in Christ. As he declared: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in Me though dead, yet shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die." The context is God. The comfort is in God's Word and that Word made flesh in Christ. The comfort is in the communion of the Spirit between the sorrowing and a Savior who does not allow death the final word.

No matter the circumstance of death--a natural passing in old age or an unexpected tragic accident of youth--the whole service, hymns, prayers, Scripture, must be alive with the Christian hope. This is the Good News we Christians alone have in the risen Christ. As God did not lose our loved one by giving that one to us in life, however long or briefly, so we have not lost him or her by their return to God. The Eternal knows them each one, and we again shall know them too. The present is only a parting with reunion promised.

The whole service, hymns, prayers, Scripture, must be alive with the Christian hope.

In light of all this, we thank God for this specific life whom we have known and loved. Memories abound. Whether it is one speaker or many, bit by bit, like piling up stones to make a cairn, from family, friends, minister there emerges something of the essence of the person they knew. And what they tell is how that life touched theirs. These remembrances are more than mere illustration of one human's life. At their best they are a reminder to all present of the power of individual influence. Personal example for good or ill counts in a world where others are constantly and quietly observing. For we are either proclaiming that life is meaningless and self-pleasing is all, or our days are declaring that life has a purpose, since a purposeful God is behind it. Living for that revealed purpose is greater than any one of us. Such a life has great influence that goes far beyond brief years. "You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give," said Winston Churchill. The one is what we end up having. The other is who we end up being.

When life can be spoken of for its good influence, this is both illustration of Christianity and witness to Christ. Every memorial service is also a missionary opportunity in which some mourner who has avoided thought of their own mortality may realize that the Good News is also for them, and through the life of their kin, friend, or colleague be encouraged to trust a living Lord. The prayers offered connect the mercy of God through gratitude for the life remembered with the needs of the sorrowing. All depart with a benediction of God's grace, love, and fellowship.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus