Enter the Day of the Dead in Brazil -- a cruelly ironic day to bury a loved one. It had been a car crash that had claimed the life of the deceased, and his family and friends were all gathered together to grieve and pay their respects to him.
Then something happened that shocked even the funeral director: The man who was supposedly inside the casket walked in the back door. His relatives panicked in fear, sure that they were being visited by an apparition. Some even tried to jump out of the windows of the funeral home. This was not, however, a paranormal experience. It was simply a case of mistaken identity.
It would seem the man presumed dead had actually been on an all-night drinking binge, and the body from the car wreck was someone else who the family simply misidentified as their loved one. When the man heard his own funeral was taking place, he decided to show up.
What would that be like? Who of us when observing a person's burial hasn't considered what it would be like if we were inside the box?
I am convinced that death is closely related to distance. For most people here in the Western World -- most of the time -- death is detached from the reality of the moment. It is something in the news, on the Internet or simply somewhere else.
At other times, however, death comes way too close. Waiting for medical results is often akin to waiting for an oil spill to be resolved. A prognosis can be as devastating as an actual loss itself.
Or perhaps, as the aforementioned Brazilian family thought, the person in the box is someone you know. When the distance of death is shortened and it ends up within arm's reach, the excesses of life seem to evaporate, and we are left to evaluate our lives with a raw sense of reality. We utterly redefine the word "essential."
All of this reflection prompts me to ask some questions concerning my own mortality. When the distance between death and me is greater, I might answer these questions differently. For now, I want to try to answer them from the perspective of someone for whom death is very real and very close -- even if right now that is not necessarily true.
Did I do anything today that really mattered?
If I could change one thing about the direction I am headed, what would it be?
What will they say about me when I'm the one in the box?
Am I living in such a way that, if I were to end up in the box today, the good things said about me would actually be true?
These are difficult questions. When Jesus was asked difficult questions, he often responded by telling a story with an application that the ancient rabbis called a parable.
We still tell parables today, such as little boys who cry "wolf" or trash-talking rabbits that eventually lose the gold medal to a slower runner from the Galapagos region.
On one occasion, Jesus was asked to help settle a dispute between two brothers about their inheritance.
Jesus responded with a parable about a wealthy man who had a surplus of crops after the harvest. Rather than using his extra for any good purposes, the man decided to tear down his existing barns and build even bigger ones in order to stockpile the excess for his own benefit. The man thought to himself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."
What the man did not realize, however, was that his life would end that very night, and everything he had been saving for himself would be distributed to others.
According to Jesus, "This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God." (cf. Luke 12:13-21, TNIV)
I am convinced that the purpose of our existence is to point away from ourselves and toward God. When we commit ourselves to following the Way of Jesus, we begin the process of improving daily our pointing ability.
Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of Billy Graham, saw a road sign one day with a statement that caught her attention so much, she decided to have it put on her tombstone. It said, simply, "End of Construction. Thank you for your patience."
When I am inside the box, I hope that my last thoughts would echo those of Tolstoy: "Not only have I no regret, but I rejoice at the thought of the passage which awaits me."
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