Thursday, April 06, 2006

Surprise in the cemetery

A few years ago, I conducted a burial service in Reidsville, Georgia for a man who was in his 90s whom I'll call "Lloyd." What his mentally-challenged 45-year-old girlfriend (they lived in adjacent rooms in a nursing home) did at the graveside caught me completely by surprise.
We arrived at the cemetery, and I told some stories about Lloyd's life, when the girlfriend (let's call her "Ruby") interrupted me, saying, "Mr. Bob, I'd like to sing a song." I looked over at Lloyd's family for help. One of the nieces nodded at me as if to say, "Go ahead and let her do it; if you don't, she won't quit talking." So I said, "Ruby, if you still want to sing when I finish my message, you can sing then." That satisfied her, and I continued.
I came to the point in the message when I mentioned Ruby. The family had asked me to say that Ruby and Lloyd loved each other, so I did, and then I braced myself for what Ruby would say. Sure enough, she spoke up again. "Yeah, we loved each other. No man was good to me like he was." I was afraid she was going to go into explicit detail, so I was relieved that was all that she said.
I finished my message, and asked her, "Ruby, do you still want to sing?" She said, "Yes, I do," and she stood up.
What happened next caught me by complete surprise. Ruby held her arms to her side, with hands out like wings, and began to sing the hit pop song from the Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan movie, Space Jam:
"I believe I can fly/ I believe I can touch the sky/ I think about it every night and day/ Spread my wings and fly away/ I believe I can soar/ I see me running through that open door/ I believe I can fly/ I believe I can fly/ I believe I can fly..."
She sang the entire song, and sang it fairly well. But it said nothing about the Christian faith or the death of a loved-one. When she finished and sat down, I paused a moment, as everybody looked at me. Then I said, "That reminds me of a great gospel song, 'I'll Fly Away,' and because Lloyd believed in Jesus, he'll fly into the presence of the Lord."
After the service, the funeral director said, "Preacher, you recovered from that pretty good."
You know, Ruby's song wasn't really that far off, after all. The Bible says that the Lord himself will descend from heaven as the angel blows the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise to be with the Lord forever in heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Based on that verse, I guess I would agree with Ruby. I do believe I can fly.

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