I’m attending a memorial service this afternoon for a person I didn’t know. And it’s not the first time. I’ve been to a number of services for people I either never met, or was barely acquainted with. Let’s just say it’s a bit awkward.
(The first such service I sat through, years ago, happened to fall on my birthday. Our plans for a special outing were interrupted by the demise of an acquaintance of Pete’s, who dropped dead while shoveling snow off his sidewalk. We endured over four hours of sobbing people repeating stories for which we had no context. I sobbed too—first because it was such a rotten way to spend a birthday, and second because I felt guilty about feeling that selfish.)
So why am I devoting most of today to a memorial service for someone I’d barely met? Well, I’m not going for the food, although there’s going to be quite a spread afterward. (I’m helping with that as well.) No, I’m going because, while I didn’t know Barry, many of our close friends did. He and his wife were members of our small group. They rarely showed up due to his work schedule, which took him out of town every week. But this group has been meeting for close to twenty years, and they’re all very close. (We’re the newbies, having joined a mere two years ago.) Our group is family. We’re going to mourn with those who mourn.
Barry was a pillar of our church. He was an elder and had significant input into our mission program. It seems everyone knew him! Everyone, that is, except me. He and his wife were in the middle of a move to the west coast when he suffered a fatal heart attack while loading the moving van. Pete and I had only met him the weekend before at their going-away party. Even with that brief introduction, we realized we had missed an opportunity.
Barry was exceptional.
As the news spread, I listened to people talk about him. How kind he was. How caring. How much he loved to worship. His bear hugs. His way of building people up, offering encouragement and support. How he made everyone feel like they were special to him.
I really wish I’d had a chance to know this man.
At one point, someone commented that all the qualities that were so admired in Barry were actually an outpouring of the life of God in him. He was truly “Jesus with skin on.”
Suddenly, my whole perspective flipped. Instead of feeling sad that I’d missed out, I was able to look through Barry to the Savior who lived inside of him. I may have missed my chance to know Barry (until we meet in heaven), but I will always have the ability to know Jesus better.
I’m sure every one of us would like to have such accolades at our memorial service or funeral. I know I began considering what my service might be like. Will anyone come? (They’re expecting a crowd at Barry’s service.) What will they say? And if it’s something good, will it reflect glory on me? or on God?
Barry lived his life so that any credit he received was redirected to God. I’m sure that people will praise Barry this afternoon, but many more will praise God because of him.
I think that’s exactly what Barry would have wanted.