I was recently reminded of a story which Steve Brown tells in his book, Approaching God. It is a story of a funeral and one of the kindest invitations to know Jesus I may have ever heard. Dr. Brown writes,
Not too long ago I conducted a funeral for the spouse of a very dear friend of mine. The spouse died of AIDS. My friend moved in a very fast crowd, and the funeral service in the home was quite informal. There was a keyboard artist playing jazz and plenty of booze and balloons. The people who came to the service were not the kind of people who are generally found sitting on the front row at the the First Church by the Gas Station. In fact most of the folks who were at the service had long since given up on religion. I could understand that. I’ve almost given up myself on several occasions. I went to the keyboard artist and said to him, Son, when you finish this piece bring it to an end because I’m going to say something religious. When he stopped playing and there was silence, I decided to follow Jesus’ example. He would probably (judging the report of the gospel writers who chronicled his life) be more comfortable with people like this than with the normal folks who attend normal funeral services. So, after saying a quick silent prayer, I said to the folks there:
“I don’t do many funerals with balloons and booze. But it’s okay because that’s the way [my friend] would have wanted it. The balloons are appropriate because this is not a funeral service, it’s a graduation service. Our friend isn’t here. She’s in another place where there isn’t any more pain. She’s in heaven, and I’m going to tell you why.”
I told them about the people Jesus loved. I told them that their friend wasn’t in heaven because she was a “good” person (they knew better than that) but because she knew she wasn’t and had turned to One who loved her enough to die on ta cross in her place.
I’m here. I went on, for only one reason. You needed someone to tell you the truth. I’m just one bad person telling other bad people the most important thing you will ever hear: God is God, and you should remember that. But if you go to him, he won’t be angry with you. In fact, he’ll love you. Our friend found that out, and we wanted to make sure you knew.
Sometimes phrases like “booze and balloons” just beg to be made the most of. This poem is a reimagining of the event which Dr Brown tells. Thought the imagination is mine, the story and certainly some of the words are his. Let’s just say, Steve gets the credit, and I get the blame.
You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.
It did not seem like a funeral
With all the booze and balloons,
More like a denial of the noumenal —
Life and death caricatured like cartoons.
In the cocktail hour’s jazzy mix of
Celebration and intoxication,
Smartly dressed people laugh and chuckle
Hide their unease behind conversation.
But we cannot escape when Death comes
For spouses — takes our friends into finality,
But the booze and balloons makes light and numbs
Us to the end of our common reality.
Beneath our unease, we grasp with white knuckles
Our scotch like the roller coaster’s seat bar —
Hoping these cups won’t let us fall out
Into eternity like some shooting star.
A man stands up, clears his throat to say
Why we’re here — why he’s come today.
Says “You need someone to tell you what’s true.
And though you’re bad people, I am one too.
I’ve been invited to come in this sad season
For one purpose, for this very reason:
That if you will take a moment, lend an ear,
I’ll tell you what I hope you’ll never unhear —
Something you should not ignore or laugh at
And that is, God is God; you should remember that.
And though He is, and that He is, you should see,
But what I want you to know more importantly
Is, if you go to Him, he won’t be angry with you.
In fact He’ll warmly welcome — He will love you.
Our friend, the one whose death brings me to you,
Found that out at the last, and it meant all in the end.
She came to know Love which would not withhold but send,
Love willing to die, and by dying make things new.
Our friend’s last wish and mine too
Was to make sure that you knew it too.”
© Randall Edwards 2020.
Artwork: James Tissot [Public domain]