For some reason I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe it’s the constant reminders around me that people die each day. It seems that when I attend funerals, they come in clumps. Sometimes I think I just can’t handle going to one more visitation, hugging the family members of the deceased, sitting through another memorial service.
But I go anyway. It’s my way of honoring the person who died, or if I didn’t know the person, of showing my concern for a friend. I often learn things about the person who died and wish I’d known him or her better.
Long ago I was faced with the possibility of my own demise. At age 30, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. At the time, I felt fear wash over me. I stayed awake nights wondering what would become of my 18-month-old son and my sweet husband. I had a minor faith crisis, asking God why he would let something like this happen to me. Then I thought about all the innocent people killed by war and other circumstances, and the thought “Why not?” occurred to me. My pastor introduced me to a young woman about my age who needed a heart and lung transplant. We chatted a bit at a church picnic. Our discussion was mainly commiseration over circumstances we could not control, but it ended on a hopeful note. She died not long afterward.
Two Sundays ago as our choir was returning to the choir room following the worship service, I commented to someone, “I want that hymn at my funeral.” I was referring to “I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath.” My comment was met with a strange look, but people have become accustomed to my random thinking, so they probably didn’t give it a second thought.
The next day I sat down and planned the hymns I want at my funeral.
“I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath”–I like this hymn because of its text (naturally) and its glorious tune.
“I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath, and when my soul is lost in death, praise shall employ my nobler powers.
My days of praise shall ne’er be past,
while life, and thought, and being last,
or immortality endures.”
I haven’t been Methodist long enough to remember the rest of the text, only that I resonate with its words (Isaac Watts, 1737; altered by John Wesley, can’t remember the year, though I just checked…John, how dare you edit Isaac? :D).
“I Stand Amazed in the Presence” … of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how he could love me, a sinner condemned, unclean. How marvelous, how wonderful, and my song shall ever be, How marvelous, how wonderful is my Savior’s love to me! (st. 4) When with the ransomed in glory his face I at last shall see, ‘Twill be my joy through the ages to sing of his love for me. How marvelous….” (Charles H. Gabriel, 1956-1932)
Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine, heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood. This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long! This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long. (Fanny J. Crosby, 1820-1915)
If a choir is available, I want one (preferably the choir from Belmont UMC, with a few of my Baptist friends thrown in just to make things interesting) to sing at my funeral. Just because I’ve spent so many years warbling (I do mean warbling…my voice is getting weaker and lower the older I get, but I still love to try to sing my love and praise to God.) Some of my favorite choral anthems:
“The Majesty and Glory of Your Name” by Tom Fettke–This ethereal song captured my imagination the first time I first heard it, and it leads me into worship every time I hear or sing it.
Some Latin arrangement, though I can’t remember one at the moment. I’ve come to appreciate Latin after struggling with it for a while when I first joined our choir. “Jubilate Deo” or “Adoramus Te”…probably the latter. Can’t remember the title, but Gayle Sullivan will know, if she’s still around when I die. She has the discretion to know which alto parts are the most fun to sing.
“Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us”–Joseph Martin arrangement
Back to other hymns I’d like sung at my funeral:
“Be Thou My Vision, O Lord of my heart, naught be all else to me save that thou art, thou my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, thy presence my light. … Riches I heed not nor man’s empty praise, thou mine inheritance now and always, thou and thou only, first in my heart, high King of heaven, my treasure thou art.” (Words: Ancient Irish, translated by Mary E. Byrne, 1880-1931; “versified” by Eleanor H. Hull, 1960-1935)
And we need to work a little Ralph Vaughan Williams in there…“For All the Saints who from their labors rest…”
And while I’m being rolled out the door (wait, I plan to be cremated), I’d want the hymn “God Will Take Care of You” either played or sung. This is a tribute to my grandfather, who sang that hymn over and over…and to my Baptist heritage (words by Civilla D. Martin, 1969-1948; music: W. Stillman Martin, 1862-1935):
Be not dismayed what’er betide, God will take care of you, beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you. God will take care of you through all your days, o’er all your ways, [words altered by moi] God will take care of you, God will take care of you.
What uplifting thoughts for a Monday morning! Now I must go and do a good day’s work.