I understand Rose now. Rose is the old, single, Jewish woman from Brooklyn I met on a packaged trip to Italy in the mid-1990s, when I was borderline middle-aged myself. On the tour bus Rose mentioned to me, unabashedly, that she had saved all the thank you cards and other greetings she had received over the years and stored them in her attic, so that when she died people would have nice things to say about her at her funeral.
At the time, I found her view macabre and pathetic. But that was when my own mortality seemed like a remote possibility and when I had not stopped to examine my past life and record nor pondered what people might remember about me after I died.
Since I met Rose, I have noticed that funerals usually make me uncomfortable in a very particular way, especially when there is an open mic and people in the congregation are invited to say a few words about the deceased. That’s when I start to squirm. The speakers always mention deeds of kindness and unselfishness. They cite examples, things I never knew about the person in the casket in front of me. I think to myself, “I never knew that about Sally!” They are usually commonplace things that anyone can do but make a big difference—like phone calls to someone who is sad, or volunteering to replace someone serving in the nursery at church.
What about me? Do I ever do anything in the course of a week, or a month, that’s not for myself? What will people have to say at my memorial service?
If you are thinking that I should not care about what people think of me, I agree with you. But this discomfort at funerals is not so much about others’ opinions of me as about what I really am. Moreover, the Lord invites us to think about such things. He tells us that “the memory of the righteous is a blessing” (Proverbs 10:7) so that we will seek after that blessing. He gives the following verse, so that we may reflect on our lives and be stirred to live deliberately in a manner that will not leave us ashamed before His judgment seat:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
We do mischief to the verse above to pretend that it refers only in some abstract way to being a Christian, or to having the passive imputed grace of Christ. The plain teaching here is that we are to be constantly doing deeds of love and faith and kindness. The Day will declare it. Ask Rose.