On Wednesday of this week I conducted a funeral for a lady I did not know.
Now I often turn down a request to conduct a funeral for a complete stranger, as the possibilities for mistakes in the resultant service are surprisingly legion. However, the deceased had particularly requested a Baptist Minister preside and her surviving elderly husband was deeply committed to the request being realised.
It quickly became apparent that this lady had been a devout believer and I found myself deeply moved by her story. She said The Lord’s Prayer every night. Her husband showed me her Bible which included many underlined verses and a written description of her conversion, whereby she clearly understood that being a disciple of Jesus entailed coming under His Lordship and Kingship.
I asked if I could borrow the Bible, not only to help me prepare for the service and get the details right about someone I did not know, but also to read from on the day – and the husband kindly agreed.
What I had not realised was that this wonderful lady had also placed inside her Bible many different personal mementos. These included photographs, letters and newspaper cuttings, which would now be precious memories for her devoted husband. None were sellotaped or stapled in, however, so I had to take some care in ensuring not only that I didn’t lose the Bible itself (I can lose things!) but that I did not allow any of these precious life memories fall out of the Bible and become lost. What seems like a simple task was not – and in fact one clipping did fall out during the funeral service itself, although thankfully onto the podium and unnoticed by the assembled mourners, so I was able to retrieve it at the close of the service.
Despite this little challenge, I really did like the idea of someone placing those precious aspects of her life inside her Bible. It was as if she had placed her life inside Scripture.
Too often we go to Scripture (if we go at all) to find a ‘proof text’ to justify our present attitude or behaviour. We wrap the Bible around our life, where we are lord and king of our life, rather than the other way round.
Eugene Peterson wrote about coming under the authority of the Bible as akin to a pioneer settling in a new and unfamiliar land. Because the settler has indeed settled, the climate and contours of the land gradually shape not only the pioneer’s physical appearance but the way he or she thinks and behaves. This is not the case with a tourist, visitor or even a pilgrim passing through. (Have you noticed how some people describe a short time away in a foreign destination as ‘life-changing’ and then behave exactly the same as before they went?)
By the end of the service I felt I knew something about this lady who had been a stranger to me in life. She had reminded me that in a society where too many are wrapped up in themselves, we need to live a life hidden in God and his Word, bringing Glory to His Name even in our death.