I have easily done over 100 funerals in the last 10 years, but none quite as burdening and difficult as the funeral I preached on Tuesday. It was the funeral of a dear friend and faithful deacon in our congregation that had been killed in the head on collision on the 2nd St. Bridge last Friday. The funeral was in this man’s hometown about 3 hours from home.
As the funeral approached, nothing I tried lifted the burden. No matter how much I prayed or meditated on Scripture, the weight remained and it was to an intensity I cannot recall ever feeling. As I reflected afterwards, here are the factors that seemed to create this “perfect storm” of struggle that peaked at an unbearable level just a few minutes before the funeral began:
1) The burden to console a young widow and fatherless kids. My friend’s death left a young wife and 2 little kids without a husband and father. It is one thing to lose a dear friend as I did with my pastoral mentor 2 days prior. Yet he, by God’s grace, died with his wife and they had no children. There is a whole other side to grief and sorrow when you watch a wife take her 5 year old daughter to the open casket and watch that little girl say goodbye to her daddy.
2) The burden of souls in my care grieving. As I watched many from our church take the day off work, load up their kids, and drive 3 hours just to attend this service, I was deeply affected by the level of grief most in our church were experiencing. Many of our people came seeking to support this wife, say goodbye to their friend, and anticipate to hear the Word of God in such a way from their pastor that would maybe provide some answers to this tragedy.
3) The burden of souls lost without Christ present. I was prepared that many of the locals that would attend this funeral were not believers in Christ, in fact we learned some were even hostile to the gospel and mad at God for this tragedy. As the chapel at the funeral home began to fill to full standing capacity of lost souls who maybe had never heard the gospel before, I felt the burden grow even more.
4) The burden of expectation to honor my friend. The deceased was not only a dear friend, but had impacted many and the pressure to accurately portray the faithfulness of this man was an honor, but nevertheless also a burden. There is one primary moment when the faithfulness of every man’s life is expected to be vividly described and that is when a hurting, captive group gathers as this one did to remember and celebrate his life.
5) The burden of burying a man my age. I would be lying if I did not acknowledge the burden that existed in burying a man 2 months younger than I am. Most of the funerals I have done have been for the elderly, or at least those in the latter parts of their life. There was a heaviness to burying my friend who was my age and left a daughter behind who is the same age as my youngest daughter.
By the sustaining grace of God, I stood with this great, unshakable burden on my shoulders and preached this man’s funeral. Within seconds of concluding the funeral, the burden was gone. It was like I had preached it out of me. As I look back on my desire for God to lift the burden beforehand, I realized it was this sovereignly appointed burden that God used to force my complete reliance upon Him in that moment. The burden created an edge to my preaching that is not as prevalent when a burden as this is absent.
Although the burden was great and I pleaded for it to be lifted, it was necessary to do what God had appointed for me to do and in the manner it needed to be done. I think it was the closest I have ever felt to Richard Baxter’s exhortation to, “preach as a dying man, preaching to dying men.”
I am a bit closer now than I was to understanding God’s purposes in the thorn that makes Christ’s power perfected in weakness. What has God taught me through this most difficult funeral? Embrace the burden, dear brothers, regardless how great it is for although weak, the power of Christ in it truly makes us strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).