The novelist, Somerset Maugham, said, “Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.” We all wish we could follow such advice. Death is a subject we would rather not think about.
In light of that, it may seem odd that Winston Churchill planned his own funeral. It included many of the great hymns of the church and used the eloquent Anglican liturgy. At his direction, a bugler, positioned high in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, played “Taps,” the universal signal that day is done.
But then came the most dramatic turn. As Churchill had instructed, as soon as “Taps” was finished, another bugler, placed on the other side of the great dome, played “Reveille”: “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up in the morning.”
I don’t know if Churchill was a true believer in Jesus Christ, but by following “Taps” with “Reveille,” he seemed to be testifying that death is not the final note in history. There will be that “great gittin’ up morning,” when the dead in Christ shall rise. When a loved one dies, there is the sorrow and grief of loss, but for the believer, there is also the hope of eternal life that overcomes the grief.
Genesis 49:29-50:14 records the death of Jacob. More space is given to his death than to any other person in Genesis, and probably to any other person in the Bible, except for Jesus Christ. Moses’ reason for this lengthy treatment seems to be to renew for his readers the covenant promises of God concerning the Promised Land. Although Jacob only possessed a small burial plot in Canaan, he wanted to be buried there rather than to stay in Egypt, because God had promised Canaan to Abraham and his descendants. When Jacob died, his son Joseph grieved over his father, but also he had hope and faith in God’s promises, pictured here in Jacob’s burial in Canaan. From this account of Jacob’s death and funeral, we can learn how we, as believers, can face the death of a loved one.
Though we grieve at the death of a loved one, we have hope by faith in God’s promises.
Both the Canaanites (Genesis 50:11) and the Egyptians observed Joseph during his grief. No doubt the Egyptians wondered why Jacob wanted to be buried in some cave in Canaan, when he could have had a beautiful tomb in Egypt. James Boice (Genesis [Zondervan, 2:322]) observes, “If Joseph had not expressed grief over the death of his beloved father, the Egyptians would have concluded merely that he had not cared for him, that perhaps he was even glad to have the old man out of the way. If he had expressed nothing but grief, the Egyptians may have concluded that the hope of an afterlife by these Semitic people was no better than their own dark hopes and may even have been inferior to theirs.” I agree with Boice as he goes on to argue that Joseph undoubtedly used the occasion of the funeral and the trip back to Canaan to tell his Egyptian friends about his hope in the living God.
The time of death and funerals can be a great opportunity for witness to those who otherwise put death and eternity out of their minds. We should always be sensitive, but also we must be bold, in telling others of the hope of the gospel at such times.