I got to speak at a relative’s funeral near Columbus last Friday. My cousin’s son Andy, age 32, died of a brain aneurysm.
He was a brilliant, creative, amazingly kind, witty, optimistic, faithful man who always made people feel better just by being around them. He’d been battling Multiple Sclerosis for five or six years, but consistently pressed through the pain and increasing disability to the wonder of his family and friends. He was tenacious in always making the best of the MS, but the fatal brain bleed abbreviated the account of his determination.
I was privileged to officiate Andy’s wedding to his bride, Jen, about 10 years ago. It was such an honor to perform the ceremony.
My wife and I have great memories of all the festivities. We’ve never gotten to know Andy and Jen as much as we’d have liked, typically seeing each other just once every year or two at a family reunion.
Nonetheless, it was really heart-wrenching to hear of his passing. They were such a beautiful couple.
The funeral was to be conducted by the pastor of the family’s church, a large Presbyterian facility in Westerville. My cousin texted me a couple days prior to the service, saying that Jen requested I say a few words about Andy.
I replied “yes, of course”, and spent a little time reviewing some scriptures and praying about how to encourage the family. Not much preparation was needed, and so I was ready quickly with very little effort. I was looking forward to helping.
Arrangements for my sharing were all transacted by text messaging, without any conversation with their pastor. I wasn’t informed about the order of service or when I’d speak, but that was OK, as I just figured I’d be introduced at the appropriate time to stand up and share a few brief thoughts.
I recognized that I was on their pastor’s turf, my responsibility was small, and he was in charge. I would just follow his lead, plain and simple.
We took a seat in a pew, and I was focused on the grief of the family, including mine. I looked through the service program, and assumed I’d be asked to share at the “Tribute of Family and Friends”, near the beginning. That made sense.
The pastor approached me a few minutes before the organ prelude began, shook my hand, pointed to the bulletin, and said, “You’ll do the homily here, at the “Affirmation of Life.” I said, “Thank you Reverend”, and then gulped.
You see, the term “homily” is known as “message” or “sermon” in the churches I generally associate with. So, when saying “do the homily here”, their pastor had just instructed me to give the entire funeral message, not just a brief tribute.
My responsibilities had suddenly morphed much larger than anticipated. I found myself in a pickle. I thought, “What am I going to do?”, and then it hit me … “Mary Poppins Returns.” Crazy, huh?
I’ve been doing articles this month on the spiritual overtones conveyed in the wonderfully done sequel to the original “Mary Poppins” film, titled “Mary Poppins Returns.”
After submitting the article for last Friday’s paper, I started thinking about the theme of this one. There is a poignant song that I honed in on, that “coincidentally” was ideal for encouraging the family at the funeral. (I don’t readily believe in coincidences, but see them as divine appointments instead; being in the right place at God’s right time. A friend of ours refers to them as “God winks”.)
The song is called “The Place Where the Lost Things Go”, sung by Mary Poppins (played by Emily Blunt) early in the film, with its reprise sung by the children at an emotionally moving time near the end.
Both are moments when non-zombie viewers will feel a tug on their heart, and many will flutter eyelids to choke back tears. It’s really special, sharing perspective about the loss of Michael Banks’ wife, the mother of the three children. The lyrics include:
“Do you ever lie awake at night?
Just between the dark and the morning light
Searching for the things you used to know
Looking for the place where the lost things go”
“Do you ever dream or reminisce?
Wondering where to find what you truly miss
Well maybe all those things that you love so
Are waiting in the place where the lost things go”
Hmmmm, “are waiting in the place where the lost things go”? May I tell you about that place, like I did the folks mourning Andy’s loss?
The Bible is clear that there are two potential destinations in eternity. One a glorious place, with peace forever, and the other … well … shall we say a place with no peace ever?
Jesus said “just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”, we will be separated to live in an eternal destination, one place or the other (see Matthew 25:32,33). And just as sheep and goats are easily distinguishable, so we all will be too.
Jesus won’t be deciding our destiny at that juncture, because that will already have been determined before we pass on. Instead, as I see it, He will be a concierge, if you will, directing which way to go; sheep go this way and goats that way.
We all need to understand that “salvation” isn’t a matter of how good or bad we’ve been, and isn’t determined by our efforts to earn the reward of it. It’s a gift (see Romans 5:15), given freely by grace, appropriated when we accept it in faith (Ephesians 2:8).
It all boils down to whether we know Jesus (John 17:3) or not (Matthew 7:23). And as mentioned last week, the connotation of “knowing” in this context doesn’t mean intellectual understanding, but intimate fellowship.
Do we really know God as Lord, Father, Covenant Partner, and Friend?
I think Andy knew God in this intimate fashion. I believe he’s a sheep, enjoying the rewards of eternal life experienced to the full in Heaven. He is in a place without death, sorrow, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4), with no MS or brain bleeds.
Though we are left to grieve Andy’s loss here, I find solace knowing there will someday be a reunion there, in the place where our loved ones lost go.
Dave Hinman is Pastoral Elder at Dove Church Wilmington. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .