You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! (Galatians 4:10)
I will never forget the strangest funeral I ever preached. An elderly man with no family pre-planned his funeral with a local funeral home. He lived well into his 90s, and had no living spouse or children. All of his friends were dead and he didn’t have a church connection. So the funeral home called me to do the funeral.
No one came.
I mean no one. When the time came for the funeral, I walked out into an empty chapel and dutifully preached a funeral to empty pews. The only one who heard what I had to say was the funeral director, and I am not so sure he wasn’t outside drinking coffee.
I believe there is value in honoring the dead, whether others are there to hear or not. And while the dead man certainly couldn’t hear me, it was only right to reflect on the life revealed in his short obituary. I was there to hear, and the strange circumstances alone have stuck with me.
Yet, most of us would admit, the social aspect of this funeral was irrelevant. In this case, it might have been better to say a few words over a graveside instead of an empty chapel.
I know this isn’t a perfect analogy, since sometimes these kinds of services are held and an obituary is placed in the paper just in case there is someone still alive who wants to attend. I merely toss it out there to show how empty a ceremony can be if it is taking place out of mere obligation.
There was nothing wrong with the traditional special days and seasons recognized by Jewish people in Galatia, just as there is nothing wrong with the celebration of Passover today for Jewish Christians. Unless they are viewed in one of the two following ways: 1) As proof of one’s righteousness to satisfy an obligation to God, and 2) As meals of hope that deny the Messiah has come.
Obviously special Jewish days and seasons would have been mostly meaningless to Gentile believers in Galatia. They could have benefited from their historical context if their Jewish brothers used them to share stories of God’s faithfulness. But if they were used for either of the two reasons suggested above, they ran the risk of obscuring the cross.
At the time the arrangements were made, it was impossible for the man I preached the funeral for to know he would outlive everyone he knew. But had there been some way to convert the funeral costs, give the director his cut and use the rest for something else, perhaps a gift to a homeless shelter or a children’s hospital would have been more significant. If someone had told a struggling family, “a nice man left some money to buy you some clothes,” there would have been others to carry on his memory.
The cross and the empty tomb are the foundational events for followers of Jesus. We celebrate them through the Lord’s Supper and by worshipping our risen Savior. Everything else is just a memory.
Dear God, teach me to attach the right importance to the right things. In Jesus’ name, Amen.