A Family Funeral and the Prayers of the Saints

This morning I am going to do the funeral for my last remaining aunt. It is an honor to eulogize such a wonderful person. Aunt Alva saw life through the lenses of grace and accountability. She was always warm and welcoming, and expressed her confidence in you through compliments. She dared you to be the best self that you could be. It strikes me that these two bookends of grace and expectation are desperately needed in the church today.

In our Christian tradition we know full well that we are saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ, but we also know that God doesn’t save us to leave us the way that God found us. We believe that becoming a Christian is not the telos end-all, but is rather a beginning of a transformed life. It almost sounds like an oxymoron, but God’s grace holds us accountable, better yet, inspires us, and empowers us to do better than we’ve ever done before.

As I eulogize my Aunt today, I almost feel as if I am eulogizing a whole generation of my family. Her dear husband, Uncle J.C., was a member of the “greatest generation” that won World War II. He survived the carnage on Iwo Jima in the Pacific, though it caused him nightmares for the rest of his life. Papa, Granny, Uncle Lee, Mama and Daddy, Uncle Homer, Aunt Florence, Frank, Carlee, Aunt Margaret, Aunt Ella Mae, Uncle Buck, Uncle Bruce, Gandaddy, Ganny, Papa Mac, MaMac, Nana, Pop, and more than I can name have “slipped the surly bonds of earth.”

But, I feel their presence crowding around this morning. It’s times like this that I treasure that part of the Apostles’ Creed that we so casually recite on most Sundays, “I believe in the Communion of Saints.” Those of us who believe in Jesus who are left alive are called the Church Militant because we still have inward and outer battles to fight. Those who have joined the great company in the cloud of witnesses above are known as the Church Triumphant.

This communion of saints, this mysterious intermingling confluence of influence is especially felt on days like today. I can picture in my mind’s eye a whole host of those who have gone before us. They are our cheerleaders and models to which we can measure ourselves, or they are like prize fighters who dare us to surpass their own feats of strength or failures of weakness. Either way, we have an opportunity to measure up and/or do better. Both serve a proper function, but it is the emotional tie to these particular saints that makes the call to excel so personal and real. These are people we knew, cared for, even loved, and we want to make them proud. We are their genetic and emotional progeny.

I don’t know for certain if these saints do any more than provide examples and educative fond memories for us. I do, however, know that the apocalyptic literature of the Book of Revelation (8:3-4) says that their prayers for us are still alive and active, “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s saints, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” So, though I don’t believe that those in heaven can see anything bad that we do or that wouldn’t be heaven, I do, however, believe that somehow they can see the good we do. This inspires me to try to do all the good that I can. Whether real or imaginary or a weird mixture of apocalyptic history, poetry, and transcendent imagery, I want to sense that this whole host who have gone before us is praying for us.

Call me crazy but just think of the number of cheerleaders that we have! Each of us has had 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents and if you extrapolate that out for 10 generations, it adds up to 1,024 parents that are rooting for us. If you take it out to 20 generations, the number is 1,048,576 parents, not counting aunts, uncles, and all the rest of the heavenly host! The epistle lectionary text for July 26 is from Ephesians 3:14-21. It is rich with what I’m feeling this morning, and describes the power of family prayer encompassing all generations. This is St. Paul’s prayer and their prayer for YOU:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

“Throughout all generations, for ever and ever!” Indeed, “Amen.” Be encouraged, therefore, and feel the unfettered wings of those set free from earth’s bonds. Feel the cool breeze of the prayers being sent your way today. They are real, actually more real now than they ever were on earth. I believe in the Communion of Saints!

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16 thoughts on “A Family Funeral and the Prayers of the Saints

  1. Tim, you did such a wonderful job at the funeral. The family is so appreciative. Mother would have loved what you said about her and would have been so proud of you. Love you, Cuz, Sandra.

    1. God bless you all, Sandra. It was an honor to eulogized your Mother. We need a reunion! Love you, tim

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      On Jul 15, 2015, at 5:25 PM, A Potter's View wrote:

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    1. Thank you, an honor and God bless you, tim

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      On Jul 15, 2015, at 8:13 PM, A Potter's View wrote:

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  2. Tim–what an inspiring message! Your eulogy reminded us of the love we have all felt from loved ones who have passed on & those who are still with us. The service will be a beautiful memory for all of the family. Jay & I are so glad to have you & your family close to home!!!

    1. Thanks so much, Betsy. It’s good for us, too! tim

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  3. Your post came with God’s perfect timing for me. I read the words to my sister at her bedside just hours before she passed away. Although you wrote them for your aunt, they described my Marie to a tee, right down to the reference to the ” greatest generation.” I read it aloud to Marie, but the words were really for me. Thank you for the comfort, even from miles away.

    1. God bless you, Beth, with comfort. I’m sorry for Dan’s and your loss, tim

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      On Jul 16, 2015, at 8:09 AM, A Potter's View wrote:

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  4. Tim, this is beautiful. It is a fitting tribute to someone who must have been a wonderful person. It brought tears when I read it. I’m out of the hospital now and facing 2 MRIs. It seems they found a cyst (I hope it is a cyst) on my liver and also, my back pain has flared up again. I’ll let you and Cindy know the outcomes.

    Love, Aunt Claire

    1. God bless you, Aunt Claire! I pray that the test results are good and they can get you well. Please take care. We love you! tim

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      On Jul 16, 2015, at 2:01 PM, A Potter's View wrote:

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  5. Tim, I am so grateful for your meaningful, well-written blog last week about our flags and SC Strong. I have shared it with many. Your ministry extends far beyond our church walls! We praise God for bringing you to us.

    1. Alice, Cindy and I are thrilled that we were sent to you all! Thanks, tim

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      On Jul 16, 2015, at 5:46 PM, A Potter's View wrote:

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