My mother’s only sibling passed away last Friday after nearly ninety-one years of life capped by a four-month struggle with cancer. She was my last and favorite aunt. Despite the trip aligning with the first three days of Iowa State students in classes, I thought we could sneak a trip to Ohio, my wife, the young miss and I.
I believe this was my first Baptist funeral, and I have to say that with the exception of the reports of pastoral care and a few well-chosen Protestant hymns, I was fairly disappointed. My aunt loved to travel with friends and relatives. Her new pastor reported that she would always be in church on Sunday. Except when she reported that she would be away on a trip. He said her attitude in her final days was very similar. She expected to be in heaven, and reported that with the same feelings of anticipation and joy as she reported visiting her younger son in Alaska, or her daughter in Florida, or when going on one of her short cruises with a friend or sister-in-law.
My aunt’s favorite Scripture passage is Psalm 103. (I didn’t know that!) Verses 1 through 11 were printed in the small brochure. The pastor emeritus (or reassigned–not sure which) got up to preach over an “altar rail” of flowers and commented that he had never preached on a psalm before. And alas, after getting to the third verse of the 103rd, he veered into Romans 8 and I suppose he can still say he’s never preached on a psalm. I love Romans 8:31-39 as much as any other Christian, but still …
I do get to an occasional Protestant service now and then. But I want to know when the proclamation of Scripture has been set aside.
The message, alas, was hellfire for the unsaved. I know I had family members present who are not churchgoing Christians. Not sure what the point was in the attempted scare tactics on the non-believers and inactives. I suppose in the tradition of Luther and Calvin and the Great Awakening, the message was orthodox enough. But was it prudent? Or effective? Or even in keeping with the message of the Psalmist:
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
He will not always chide:
neither will he keep his anger for ever.
He hath not dealt with us after our sins;
nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as the heaven is high above the earth,
so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. (Ps 103:8-11, KJV)