I had been a preacher for roughly one month. I had never yet been called to the hospital late at night, but that January night I got dressed around bedtime to go sit with a man I had never met because his wife, who I had also never met, was in the emergency room.
It was her fortieth birthday. She and her husband had been out celebrating over dinner, and returned to the house to settle in for the night. She had been complaining of a headache for most of the day, but had enjoyed her birthday, none-the-less. But, as she prepared for bed in her bathroom, she began vomiting violently and then passed out. Her husband called an ambulance, they rushed her to the hospital, and that was how I found the situation.
I was not sure what I could do or say for the husband who waited to hear about his wife, so I just prayed with him. And waited with him. Until the EMT who responded to the call, and who was also a friend of this middle-aged couple, came into the waiting room to tell this anxious husband that is wife died on her birthday from an unexpected and unavoidable aneurysm.
I was asked to perform the funeral. I had only ever preached fake funerals in preaching class in school. This was, to put it mildly, entirely different. But, I met with the husband, son, and other family, and I did my best to get them talking about the wife, sister, and mother they had lost. I don’t really know much about counseling or grief, but I knew that I needed all the information I could get if I was going to preach a funeral for a woman I had never met.
The day of the funeral came, and the pews filled up. Close to five hundred people arrived to remember a woman who had been incredibly involved in her community. And I certainly felt incredibly inadequate.
I don’t remember much of what I said, and it probably didn’t matter. People were there to cry, seek comfort, and question why. No preacher has words to truly relieve the pain.
I stood at the head of the casket for what seemed like hours, but had to be at least forty five minutes as friends and family streamed by to say good bye to a woman they would miss very much.
And I don’t know the state of this woman now. I don’t know about her relationship with God. All I know is the favorable memories passed to me for the purpose of a funeral. But, I do know that death, and all the mourning and pain that it brings, is not entirely pointless.
We are made to live, not die. But, as things work now, we must all die to truly live. And God will fix that discrepancy, that historic problem, by bringing all of His faithful followers back to a new and everlasting life. He already fixed the problem by bringing His Son back to life. And that is what Easter is all about.