Pastor Jim Melvin
“Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”
I was recently asked to lead a “Celebration of Life” service for my wife’s aunt, something that I always feel privileged to do. This was the type of service that her aunt specifically requested. As I was speaking with the family, we started asking exactly what a “Celebration of Life” entails. After a few days of reflection, here is what I have come up with on how to celebrate a life.
The first thing we must do is get together. You can’t really celebrate by email, text, or telephone. Family and friends have to get together in the same place, preferably a place that holds some significance to the person being honored. Sometimes it has to be a place of convenience accessible to the most people – and that’s ok too.
I learned the power of family gatherings through my wife’s family. Coming from a small family, we didn’t get together as a group much. But my wife had 15 aunts and uncles and a bazillion cousins, so family reunions were major events. As the aunts and uncles have passed away over the years (there is only one left in my wife’s family) the reunions mostly occur when someone dies. The first thing we say when we guiltily greet each other is “We only see each other at weddings and funerals.” That statement reinforces the importance of gathering.
It says in the Book of Proverbs, “The memory of the righteous is a blessing.” You can substitute “the ones we love” for “the righteous” if you like. Remembering allows the person we have lost to be present with us. I’ve heard of people who have their celebration of life ceremonies before they die so that they can attend. Not necessary. When we remember, we summon their presence.
One thing that I have found about remembering is that it needs to be honest. It is important to remember the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. Sugarcoating a person’s life or character in a way dishonor’s them. To truly celebrate a life, we should remember them as they were, not as we wish they were. When we remember somebody in the full context, warts and all, it opens the possibility for healing where it is necessary, and a true appreciation of what has been lost. By the way, when you remember me, don’t be TOO honest.
This is a celebration, right? So, party on. The Bible, the Psalms in particular, are full of partying. Psalm 98:4 sings, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” When the prodigal son returned the father said, “ʽBring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.” And when Jesus attended the wedding at Cana in Galilee, they ran out of wine and so they asked Jesus to come up with180 gallons more. Tell me that wasn’t a real party.
Seriously, the party, the eating and drinking together (it doesn’t have to be alcohol) are an essential part of healing. The beginning of the banquet signals that it is time for life to move on and for happiness to enter into life again. In my midwestern Lutheran experience nothing says healing more than a hot dish and bars.
My final step for celebrating the life of someone we love is to throw ourselves back into life again. We honor their life by going out and leading the kind of life that they would be proud of. We are the ones who now have the opportunity to create a living legacy for the one who has gone before us. That applies not only to our parents and older relatives, but also to our friends for whom the opportunity to make a direct difference in the world has been closed.
GATHER. REMEMBER. PARTY. LIVE. THAT’S THE WAY TO CELEBRATE A LIFE.