We’re lost. I think we took a wrong turn off I-95. We’re now in Norfolk instead of Richmond. But we should be there soon!” the hearse driver assured my mother on the phone. My mom hung up the phone, looked at her watch, and sighed, “I think we’re in for a long wait.”
We were standing at what was supposed to be my grandmother’s graveside service. For the last forty minutes, the minister, my relatives, and I had been standing around the grave, just sort of staring at each other, wondering what to do. None of us had ever been to a funeral without the casket!
After another hour of waiting, the minister was growing restless. He said he had to be somewhere else soon. “If the hearse doesn’t show up shortly, I’m not sure what we’re going to do.”
Rather than have a funeral without a casket or a minister, we decided to begin the service. The reverend made it all the way to the part where he was to commit my grandmother’s body to the grave. “Ashes to ashes . . . ,” he said, then stopped. “I can’t really go any further without her body actually being here!” he said. “I’m sorry.”
Just as he turned to leave, the hearse arrived. It screeched to a halt near the graveside, and out popped a bearded lady in a pin-striped, three-piece suit. It wasn’t a full beard, but it was the beginnings of a respectable one by any standard, complete with mustache.
“So sorry I’m late! I took a wrong turn and went north instead of south. But I’m ready to do the ceremony,” she said, brandishing a script she’d pulled from her coat pocket. “It’s my first time, but I’ve got notes here.”
“Do the ceremony?” my mother asked, her normally calm façade beginning to show a few cracks. “What are you talking about?”
The bearded lady looked puzzled. “That was part of the package—I transport the deceased, and I do the ceremony,” she insisted. “You’re going to have to pay for it anyway.”
My mother paused and struggled visibly for control. Then she informed the driver that our family would pay the fee but that my grandmother’s minister, who was standing right there, would be finishing the service.
The bearded lady hearse driver deflated a bit but delivered my grandmother’s casket to us and drove away.
And the funeral, from that point on, really went off without a hitch.
My grandmother had never been late a day of her life. But she was, as they say, late to her own funeral—literally. In the same way, many of us are late to our funerals. I’m not speaking of the physical, of course, but of the spiritual. Both Romans and Galatians tell us that we died with Christ:
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Rom. 6:6–7)
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
Spiritually speaking, we participated in a funeral—our own. But we need to “attend” that funeral, to witness it and be aware of its implications.
So are you late to your own funeral?
(from Andrew’s bestselling book, “God Without Religion”)