Tag Archives: Epitaph

The Epitaph Being Written Today

“He passed away, to no one’s regret….”
2 Chronicles 21:20 (NIV)

Earlier in my life journey I spent a few years in pastoral ministry. I served in a rural community with many aging citizens. I found myself performing an unexpected number of funerals which led to my befriending the local funeral director. As a result, I found myself doing even more funerals as my friend would often call me when the deceased or the deceased’s family had no connection with a local pastor or church.

I encountered an amazingly diverse number of experiences in those few years. I observed beautifully warm family gatherings honoring individuals who left a legacy of love. I observed fractured families who refused to be in the same room with their family members. Factions would take turns paying their last respects to the deceased. I officiated services for individuals who, at the end of their lives, were completely alone and virtually no one came to pay their respects. And, I presided over funerals for individuals who appeared to be universally despised, those in attendance at the funeral sharing with me that they were there to say “Good riddance.”

After several chapters in which the Chronicler shares a rather expansive story of King Jehoshaphat, today’s chapter succinctly describes the brief reign of Jehoshaphat’s son, Jehoram. It was eight years of division and chaos rooted in Jehoshaphat’s ill-fated decision to make a marriage alliance with the evil King Ahab of Israel which set off a chain-reaction of tragedy.

Jehoram married a daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. By the Chronicler’s account, Jehoram was sucked into the dysfunctional family and religious system of his in-laws. This couldn’t have made him popular with his brothers who had been given some regional authority by their father (which made them potential rivals to Jehoram). Jehoram kills off all of his brothers to solidify his hold on the throne. Neighboring enemies, observing the internal political chaos, choose to attack Judah and take advantage of this moment of weakness. It works. Jehoram’s reign ends after eight short, bloody years marked by internal strife, fraternal murder, and failure in almost every respect.

The Chronicler’s epitaph: “He passed away to no one’s regret.”

What a sobering reality to mull over in my hotel room this morning. What kind of epitaph have I been writing over my life journey? What adjectives have attached themselves to my legacy? Love? Anger? Kindness? Pride? Faithfulness? Selfishness? Generosity? Greed? Failure? Redemption?

In the quiet I’m thinking about the opportunity I have this day and every day, in every relationship, in every interaction to make a positive difference. Even a life journey littered with tragic failure can chart a new waypoint each day. It’s never too late. That’s what the word “repentance” literally means: to turn and move in the opposite direction. In my experience, positive life change rarely happens in a moment. Rather, it begins with one willful decision to make a change of direction.

I’m thinking about some of those individuals from years ago with whom I only became acquainted as a body in a casket. What would have been different had I known them, had a chance to interact with them before their journeys end? I don’t know.

But it’s not too late for the people with whom I will interact today.

Chapter-a-Day 1 Chronicles 10

Die well. Saul died in disobedience, disobedient to God. 1 Chronicles 10:13 (MSG)

I had been asked to perform the funeral by the deceased man's family. There was a distant connection, and I agreed to officiate though I'd never met the guy. A few days before the funeral I gathered with the children of the deceased to listen to family stories and get a sense for who this guy had been in life. Usually, this is kind of a special time that helps me learn about the person I'm helping lay to rest and becomes a time of healing and closure for the family. This time, however, instead of warm tears, laughter and precious memories heartfully related, I received a table full of empty stares and agonizing silence.

At the church, prior to the funeral, a stranger walked up to me. "This ought to be a challenge. How do you find something good to say about this guy?" he said with a sneer before walking away. After the funeral, many people commented that they appreciated how I handled the service in view of the terrible man in the casket.

How will I die? I don't mean "how" in terms of the manner in which I expire, but "how" in terms of the state of my heart and life when I reach the finish line here on Earth. It's not a question we think much about, but it's one worth pondering. Today's chapter states that "Saul died in disobedience." What a sad statement. What a rotten epitaph.

I want to die in obedience. I want to die in the love of God, my family, and my friends. I want to die having walked the journey well, having pressed on through adversity, having arrived at a place of deep contentment.

How will you die?