Many years ago when I was working part time for a local funeral home while I was attending college, we were asked to transport someone who had died to a location several hundred miles away for a burial in northern Missouri. We arrived to find a small country cemetery located out in the midst of nowhere with no one around to welcome us. While my boss was setting up for the burial, I noticed an old guy in plain clothes walking around the cemetery looking at all of the gravestones. I greeted him warmly and supposed he was someone taking care of the cemetery.
When the time came for the burial service to begin, I began to be a little nervous. Four or five people showed up for the service, but there was no pastor or minister present. Since even at that young and inexperienced age, I knew that it might be that I would be called upon at the last minute to say something significant to the people gathered for the burial service. At that point in my life, I had no idea about what to say or, for that matter, to do. We were in the midst of nowhere with no one around who knew us (or perhaps even knew the deceased). It was a scary moment in the life of a young college student.
Suddenly, the old guy who had been walking around the cemetery stepped forward and introduced himself as the person in charge of the service. I was astounded and had to wonder at what kind of situation we had gotten ourselves into, but then he began to speak and I knew we were in the presence of a master. He opened his mouth and gave praise for the moment and the person being buried, and then began to reveal the heavenly truth of the scriptures. I was enthralled, and admit even today that his graveside presentation was one of the finest, if not one of the best, that I have ever heard. We were brought before the Almighty, introduced to the mysteries of the future, and provided support for living in the present.
On Memorial Day, literally millions of people in the United States and around the world will stop what they are doing and make a trip to the burial place of someone close to their hearts. Some of them will bring flowers to put on the grave, while others will simply stand before the grave and remember. And, a few will drop to their knees and give thanks as they remember all of the good things they remember from the past. We remember, and in our own way, give thanks.
I am reminded that everyone -- no matter how secular or religious, no matter what his or her status in life happened to be -- deserves to have a funeral service. There used to be a pastor in northern Detroit who the funeral homes often called to conduct a funeral service when no one else was available. He had the reputation of always finding something good to say about the person being memorialized at the service. However, one day a funeral home asked him to preside over the service of perhaps the worst man anyone could remember, and people came just to hear what he would say. No one could remember anything good about the deceased. The pastor used for his text the words of the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15:10, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect." His words about the deceased being "I am what I am" spoke well about the situation.
Having a memorial service for someone does not say anything about his or her eternal resting place. That is always decided between the person and God, between his or her relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That's something that is personal and not something decided by people who attend to pay their respect and to remember.
It is a truism that the older we become, the more people we remember who have gone on before us. This Memorial Day, may your hearts be filled with good memories from the past about those you have loved (and those who have loved you), and may your minds filled with the awesome power of God who is both the Giver and the Taker of life.