There is a story told long ago about a man who died in a certain town. The man had been a real rounder (a polite word for someone who did just about everything that one should avoid). He had not taken care of his children, had mistreated his wife, avoided the church at all costs, offended pretty much everyone he could. When he died, the wife called her minister to ask him to officiate at the funeral. The minister obliged and, as it often happens at funerals, began to describe what a loving and caring person this man had been. About halfway through the eulogy, the grieving widow bent over and whispered into the ear of her son sitting beside her, "Johnny, go look up there and be sure that is your daddy he is talking about."
Sometimes it is a puzzle for ministers to know how to approach funeral services for persons they do not know and especially those who have chosen over the years to not be involved in religious activities. Many have lived very good lives, even without having the church or religion as part of their lives. Others, even some who have been members of churches, have not tried to follow the teachings of what it means to be a Christian but have had their names on the rolls of churches. So, what do we think about what happens when a person dies? Does dying automatically elevate someone to sainthood? Are we obliged to use flowerly language to describe a person simply because they are no longer living among us or is it acceptable to admit that flawed persons lived among us and now they have gone on to whatever faces them for the future?
Honesty comes with its cost, at times. Funeral services are not the appropriate place to air out the dirty laundry concerning the deceased, even if they lived a life that all present know was "sketchy" or "hypocritical." The purpose of a funeral service is to bring comfort to those remaining. Sometimes we have to simply talk about the promise of resurrection and how God cares for those who are grieving and desires to bring comfort to their lives. The Church has to be the place of solace and love for all who are in need even when the occasion is a challenging one. Private conversations in solitude are the occasions to discuss the deceased honestly, keeping the sharing quiet and non-intrusive upon others.
Many times we do not fully know others with whom we associate. Their lives may be an open book to us, it would seem, but behind the scenes they may treat others differently than what we experience from them. There has been an example in the news recently of a television personality whose private conversations were made known in which she discussed things that were offensive to others because they smacked of racism. Few, if any, knew that she had these attitudes and, unfortunately, now she will be remembered for this episode in life rather than for others for which she may be long remembered for doing good deeds.
This person was unlucky to be caught by the modern media and to be exposed for her inner thoughts but how many of us have thoughts or deeds in our lives that would shock others if they knew about them? We all live fragmented and broken lives. It is God's forgiveness and that of those whom we may have harmed that bring us into a right relationship in this world.
Each year on the first Sunday in November we celebrate "All Saints Sunday" when we remember those from our church who died during the past year. We call them "Saints" not because they lived perfect lives but because they lived and did battle with the forces of evil all their days and now are no longer with us. All Saints Sunday recognizes the lives of ordinary people who often did extraordinary things but it also recognizes all who lived and died and walked among us through our years. It is the roll we call yearly as we account for who remains and who is gone. It is not calling them perfect people, just forgiven people.
So, every so often, we may know of someone who passed from among us whom we wonder how they will slip into the Pearly Gates or if they will indeed....that one is left in God's grace and we allow God the space to decide what their eternal destiny will be. Truly, that is what each of us do with our own lives because we are kept in God's care and God is the ultimate judge of our lives.