One of my best friends called me last night with news you never want to hear.
“Dave, is this a bad time?”
“My mom died yesterday.”
Like there’s such thing as a bad time for news like that. Wait. There’s never a good time for news like that, but you’ve always got time for a friend with news like that. I don’t care if it’s Game 7 of the World Series, bottom of the 9th, two out, the bases are loaded, my team’s down by a run, I’m due up and I’m the team’s superstar. Sorry, Mr. Manager, I know the team needs me but you’d better get a pinch hitter ready because I’ve got a friend who needs me more.
What she needed, besides someone who would listen, was a trio of Bible verses for her mom’s funeral mass. I guess I was the logical person to call, because her dad asked who she was talking to, and then he must have asked something like, “Why’d you call him?” because she said, “Because he’s putting together a Bible study for tomorrow night.”
Actually at the time my phone rang, I was laying on my futon thinking about cleaning off my coffee table–hard drives are not appropriate coffee table decoration, and you don’t have to be Martha Stewart to know that–but I did spend some time putting together a Bible study, yes.
After a little digging, we came up with some stuff. And that’s how Protestant Boy here ended up injecting his two cents’ worth into a funeral mass.
“Somewhere in the Bible, it says, ‘Fight the good fight,'” she said.
“That’s St. Paul if I’ve ever heard him,” I thought as I got out my concordance. It was an easy find: 1 Timothy 6:12.
The books of 1 and 2 Timothy are really cool books, because Paul was well along in years when he wrote them–2 Timothy may have been the last thing Paul wrote before he died. Timothy was a dear friend, about 30 years Paul’s junior, so Paul regarded Timothy as the son he never had. So these two books read like a father’s last words to his son–“Since I don’t have much time left, let me make sure I say these last things to you now,” you can hear Paul saying.
A mother-daughter relationship has similarities to that, and Jeanne’s mom spent the majority of her life fighting the good fight. I wasn’t about to suggest any other verse.
For the gospel lesson, there was only one obvious choice: John 11.
“Jesus told her [Martha], ‘Your brother will rise again.’
“‘Yes,’ Martha said, ‘when everyone else rises, on resurrection day.’
“Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish. Do you believe this, Martha?’
“‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him. ‘I have always believed…'” (John 11:23-27a, NLT.)
In a mass, you have Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel lessons. 1 Timothy gets New Testament out of the way. For Old Testament, there’s the old standby, Psalm 23. I stumbled around looking for an alternative. I looked in Job 7, which was a mistake–that just gets you depressed. I looked at a verse in Isaiah that my Bible recommended, but it didn’t seem to fit.
I found a passage in Psalm 91 that I underlined long ago:
The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will satisfy them with a long life and give them my salvation.” (Ps. 91:14-16, New Living Translation.)
Then I read it in a couple of other translations and didn’t like it so much. Maybe the NLT played it a little too fast and loose with the translation; others didn’t sound appropriate for use in a funeral mass.
So I flipped around to what’s probably my very favorite Psalm: Psalm 18. It’s a little unconventional, as it’s a prayer of praise after deliverance from your biggest enemy, but compared to heaven, isn’t this world your biggest enemy? Even though it’s not the first passage that comes to mind, it just seemed to fit:
“I love you Lord, you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior. My God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the strength of my salvation, and my stronghold. I will call on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, for he saves me from my enemies.” (Ps. 18:1-3, NLT)
Jeanne liked it. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Jeanne’s mom was a brilliant woman; she held two advanced degrees. Her health held that brilliant mind captive for the majority of her years. I don’t understand her illness; I won’t go into any details because I have none. For the people left behind, it’s no good. But this life truly was her greatest enemy. Now God has set her free.
And just as with the rest of us, in due time God will set Jeanne free too. Then they’ll see each other again, each the way God intended them to be all along. What can be cooler than that?
Today, it’s no good. Tomorrow and the next day won’t be much good either, and neither will next week. If she’s like me, she’ll wake up sweating and panting, having just dreamt it was all just a terrible mistake and her mom just walked in the room. My dad died almost 7 years ago, but I’ve had that dream at least once this year. And there’ll be days next year that won’t be so great.
But one day, when God calls us all home, none of that will matter anymore. In the meantime, God still needs us here. And he’s put people around us to deal with getting through all that.