6 August 2018
One of the prime focal points we find in the Bible is the intentional act of engaging in celebration. This means we are to participate in celebrating every aspect of life as God has ordained it.
We often run into difficulty when life roles us up in troubles of every kind. We lose perspective on our lives and how Jesus wants us to walk with him. We focus on the problem, the fear, the loss, the pain, or any other difficulty you would like to add. I would recommend you take some time to look through the Bible and see what it says about rejoicing. It will challenge you, trust me!
In Philippians 4 we are admonished by the Apostle Paul, who was no stranger to physical ailments, beatings, stonings, ship wreck, and the like, to, “Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: Rejoice!”
As a minister and chaplain for forty years, I have witnessed the attitudes of Christians who had failed to connect with rejoicing. It was so clear that those who made it a point of rejoicing, especially in the hard times, had a completely different temperament than those who found it difficult to live out the command to rejoice.
This attitude of rejoicing is never more critical than when the death of a loved one, or close friend occurs. On August 27th, my mother-in-law, Alda Cabral, passed away at age 85. For the past number of years, she has been dealing with a number of physical ailments. Her body had finally given up.
Last Friday we held the funeral service for her at a church in her town of Los Banos, California, about 55 miles from our home. As the six siblings discussed the plans for a proper send off, it was emphasized that because their mom had accepted Jesus as her Savior, the service was to be a celebration!
A real cute story best depicts this need to celebrate through rejoicing. The secretary of this church, whose name is Jen, was wonderful, as well as graciously patient in helping pull everything together. The youngest of the siblings is Judy, and this is her church. My mother-in-law attended a Portuguese church which was some distance away. Jen’s four-year-old daughter Alice, noticed a sadness about Miss Judy. She said to her mother, “Why is Miss Judy sad?” Her mother replied, “Miss Judy is sad because her mom has died.” To which Alice said, “Do you mean she has moved to heaven! Oh! She’s happy in heaven! I’m going to move to heaven too, but not today.” Out of the mouths of babes!
When I am the minister responsible for a funeral I always focus on the joyfulness, the celebration of the occasion. When I know the person that has died was a Christian, having accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, it is much easier to celebrate. When I officiate over a funeral where I am unsure of the person’s eternal standing with God, it becomes exponentially more difficult.
Since my wife and her family emigrated to the United States fifty-two years ago, the weddings and funerals I’m involved with are always bilingual. The Portuguese pastor, Eugenio Piacentini, and I have performed a total of six weddings/funerals jointly over the years. I will speak a few words in English, then pause while he translates into Portuguese. He’s very good, so we move along quite well. At times I get a bit lively in my delivery, but Eugenio comes right out with the same energy in Portuguese. A number of folks told us after the service that we should take our duo on the road! We enjoyed a laugh over that.
Three of the daughters and two granddaughters each wrote a eulogy which they asked me to read for them. I enjoyed this part because there were lots of fun remembrances shared by all of them. There was laughter in the telling of these stories which has an amazingly positive effect on the whole ceremony. Maggie, one of the four daughters, had written how much her mom loved to shop at Gottchalks. Early on after settling in America, Maggie would go shopping at Gottchalks with her mom. Maggie was able to speak English well enough, whereas my mother-in-law never quite got the hang of it. But Alda loved to barter. She told Maggie, “I want to barter with this sales girl.” Maggie responded, “Mom, you can’t do that! That was fine in the old country, but this is a large corporation!” Her mom was not deterred, and still attempted to barter price with the sales girl.
Later at the committal service graveside, I asked the question in my best stentorian voice, “Where is Alda Cabral? Has anyone seen her? No?” I then went on to explain that according to Scripture, Alda is in heaven. And that is cause for great rejoicing!
Jesus makes this promise to all believers in John 14, “In my Father’s House are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
That is cause for great rejoicing, and eternal praise and celebration! Four-year-old Alice has that all figured out. Do you?