One of the platitudes slung about at funerals is that the dead person will live on in our memories. It is mostly, or eventually, a lie. The people with the memories will soon die too. Of course, there may be those good, evil, or rich enough to have books written about them. And some may leave behind books or buildings with their names attached. But even this rare event is not really an example of people remembering who you are—your personality and inner reality. Most of us will have no biographer except God.
Last summer my brother died. I was surprised by different layers and sources of grief. The most surprising loss came as I thought of the many memories of my parents and our life together that were gone. Who could I talk to about Mom and Dad and our camping trips on the Oregon Coast? Losing Stanley was like losing Mom and Dad again.
My brother, Larry, and I talked about this. He is five years older than I and shows signs of hanging around a while. I felt keenly how much of my identity is tied up in the stories and shared history of our childhood together. Losing those who know our stories can untether our identity. We have a deep need to be known and are unsettled when we lose those who know us best. Losing Stanley has made me treasure my friendship with Larry. He knows me.
A problem people my age face is that many who know us have died or will die soon. Often the people who remember us have either died or moved away. Yes, grandchildren will carry memories of grandparents, but they will remember them only as indulgent, sometimes grumpy, gray heads. Some stories may get passed down, but soon all the memories are gone.
For years I have walked the dog in the cemetery up the hill from our house. The broken stones and untended graves are reminders that eventually we are all forgotten. It is interesting to note that about Shakespeare, the most successful and famous of authors, almost nothing is known. We have his works but even the best scholarly sleuths have a hard time detecting much about Shakespeare from his plays and sonnets. Whoever he was is forgotten.
If living on in the memories of others is our only hope, we should despair. But there is Jesus, a friend who sticks closer than a brother. We are perfectly known and perfectly loved by Him from womb to tomb. Right now, who we are is hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3). Paul speaks of a day when all that is lost is restored and all that is hidden is revealed:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known. (I Corinthians 13:13)
All who have known us here, even those who know us best, only know parts of us. Most of us fail even to know ourselves accurately. It is hard to sort out who we hope we are from who people say we are and figure out who we really are. But in Christ, we are truly known and who we are (or have become) will be fully revealed only on the day we see Him face to face. When all who know us are gone, God who knows us best remains.
If at funerals we celebrate the life of a person who has died, imagine the celebration when in the twinkling of an eye we see Jesus face to face and are changed into his likeness. It a wonderful paradox of our faith that when we become the most like Jesus is also the day we become our true selves. All the hidden inner glory of hard obedience, tearful prayers, an unnoticed sacrifice will be visible. All is glory, and we are remembered.