The following was originally delivered as a devotional for the St. John’s Lutheran Church Council meeting on Monday, September 14, 2015.
Last weekend, Sarah and I went to a celebration of life event for a guy named Jerry. Neither of us knew Jerry well, but his girlfriend Shawna is a dear friend of Sarah’s. She’s someone we’ve known for years. She babysits Marley dog when we go out of town.
Jerry’s celebration of life was a celebration in the truest sense. It was held on a farm field in East Knox County. There were tents and camp chairs, barbecue and hamburgers, beer and other adult beverages. Although we didn’t know many of the people, we had fun.
The only clue that this wasn’t your ordinary family reunion or cookout was a table, covered in black cloth. On it was the urn, specially built by one of his best friends, that will hold Jerry’s ashes when the coroner releases his body. Shawna and his family wanted an autopsy conducted because Jerry, at the age of 37, died in his sleep. Probably of a condition related to his high blood pressure, which he knew he had but for which he never sought treatment.
Perhaps because of what we’ve gone through with my health crisis, or because it’s human nature, when we attend celebrations of life and funerals, Sarah and I talk about what we want and don’t want when our time comes.
Neither of us, for example, wants to be celebrated in a funeral home. No open casket. I would prefer to be cremated. Neither of us is entirely sure we want to be celebrated in church, either. Sad music will be forbidden. Like Sunday, it should be a celebration of life. Sarah says she’d be okay with a field party, and a band that plays all genres of music — happy music. And lots of flowers, but no lilies or gladiolus, please.
Me? I want my celebration in a bar, preferably an Irish pub. Those Irish really know how to mourn a dead guy. Poetry, readings of awesome prose (but I’ll come back and haunt anyone who reads “The Dash”). Beer and whiskey for everyone, and if a fight breaks out, all the better. And I have an idea who might get drunk enough to start the brawl.
After we shared our thoughts on our desires for our respective celebrations, we looked at each other, smiled and said, “And as far as you know, that’s exactly what is going to happen.”
Planning your own wake, whether in conversation or on paper, is definitely whistling past the graveyard. Death is coming for all of us. It’s the one thing every human being has in common. We’re all going to die.
Talk of death, especially the death of someone so young who, it turns out, was a really great guy who lived simply, gave generously and had tons of loving friends, makes me think of a post I see at least once a week on social media. It’s a quote falsely attributed to Buddha that says “The thing is, you think you have time.”
We get so spun up and spun out in the stresses and demands of our daily lives, always thinking we’ll have time later to spend with friends or family, to take that long-thought-about trip to Pamplona to run with the bulls, or do that once-in-a-lifetime bungee jump off a bridge in Mexico.
And even when we are in the presence of our family and friends, we’re not really present. We’re often looking down, usually at our phones … answering someone else’s email or scanning Facebook to see what exciting things are happening in other people’s lives.
Before you get the idea that I’m casting stones, please know that I’m equally guilty … and I’ve almost died a time or two. You would think I would have learned by now.
This is not the abundant life that Jesus talks about in John 10:10.
Life is amazing. We wake up every day with so much for which to be grateful. There are great experiences to be had and many, many wonderful people toward whom we should offer the incredible gift of our love. Too often, we lose that wonder the second our eyes hit a glowing screen or our feet hit the floor. Then it’s showtime. We have places to go, things to do and people to manage.
Maybe, before the day starts, we need to pause. Leave the electronic device on the nightstand for a minute and think about something or someone for which we’re grateful. It can change our approach to the entire day.
As that great philosopher Ferris Bueller once said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Don’t miss it!