America needs a day off. Last week was supposed to be the final lap around the summer track before returning to the sprint lane that puts everyone back in competition for the Fall. But some things aren’t planned in keeping with the normal calendar: death lands on life with little notice, and demands attention.
Parties are great, but they don’t offer the value one finds at a funeral. Solomon said as much: “A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart…” (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2).
America attended services last week for Senator John McCain and the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Both were icons, from the same era. The politician died at 81; the singer died at 76. Their lives were lived in public, and their endings were not private. Through live media coverage, the world was invited to be part of their houses of mourning as the living gave their own perspective about the dead.
For McCain, his family funeral was hosted at North Phoenix Baptist Church, the congregation in which he and his wife often worshiped when he was “home.” In his service, Pastor Noe Garcia shared that McCain had placed his faith in Jesus Christ, and that he was then “more alive than he’s ever been,” because he embraced the truths of Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23 and John 3:16. Though Joe Biden’s eulogy in that service garnered more headlines, Garcia’s comments offered more solace. Dead… but “more alive than he’s ever been.” Faith in the Lord Jesus allows that certainty…
Aretha Franklin’s service was held at the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit. The day-long tribute was a multifaceted experience: music across genres – Ariana Grande, Stevie Wonder, Faith Hill were just some of the headliners – and orators aplenty, from Reverend Jesse Jackson to President Bill Clinton.
C.L. Franklin – Aretha’s father – was a respected pastor and civil rights leader. When he died in 1984, his dear friend, Reverend Jasper Williams, Jr. – the pastor of Salem Bible Church in Atlanta – was asked to deliver his eulogy. As Aretha anticipated her own death, she asked that Williams (a lifelong friend and contemporary) do for her what he had done for her father. He came prepared…
At both memorials, the commentaries went beyond the lives of the dead and ventured into the ideologies of the living. Some of those observations were applauded; a few were later attacked. None received more negative reaction than those offered by Reverend Williams.
Williams preached with fire and passion as he declared that the righteous objectives of the civil rights movement would never be achieved through political victory alone: that the erosion of the nuclear family – manifested in the absence of fathers in the home and the vacating of the self-disciplines that give strength to a community – are the responsibility of men within every culture.
While his declaration was directed at the men in America’s black community, the same confrontation of culture could be directed to modern men of every ethnic category. To adapt his rhetoric: America has lost its soul, and mothers raising sons alone are at a disadvantage. Men – by God’s design – were called to accept their responsibility to be faithful husbands and fathers.
What will someone say in your eulogy?