I attended a funeral today. The man who passed on was a business aquaintance who at age 72 had continued to be active in his business as long as his health allowed. This is not to say he ignored his family quite the contrary, it seems. Although he was a business contact, I knew him to be a man of faith as well, in the Mennonite tradition. Turns out he was the “real” kind of Christian; it seems you always find out more about a person at their funeral than you’d been aware beforehand. Always too late. We listened to a lengthy tribute by his two children, who seemed to be not at all short of things they appreciated about their father and the time he’d spent with them.
It was cancer, in the end. He’d battled it a little over five years ago and defied the odds, but shortly after his fifth anniversary of being cancer-free, a routine checkup produced some bad news. Mere weeks later, his wife of 48 years was also diagnosed with cancer. When the celebrated their 45th anniversary, they went all-out, cognizant that they may not see their 50th. Staring cancer in the face again, they made a “deal” together, that he would walk with her and see her through her ordeal of surgery and treatment, and then she would do the same for him. This they did; but her first “good day” afterward was his last good day, and a few months later, his days were done. This was alright with him, he had decided he was ready.
Funerals by nature cause one to reflect just a little on one’s own life. Coincidentally, both my daughters gave extra-clingy hugs at bedtime tonight. Today I thought back to road trip I once took with some other church leaders. As we drove and talked, we posed questions to one another to spur discussion, like favorite books of the Bible, three most influential books in your life, and so forth. One question I posed was this: If you could write your own epitaph, what would it be?
Good question. What inspired it? An inscription on one of the flyleaves of my copy of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. At age 22, Benjamin Franklin took the time to compose his own epitaph, which was never used. The image with this post is based on this epitaph (image credit), which you can see written in his own hand:
The body of
B. Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn Out
And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies Here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be Lost;
For it will (as he Believ’d) Appear once More
In a New and More Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author.
His actual epitaph reads, “Benjamin and Deborah Franklin: 1790.” Somehow it doesn’t come across with quite the same panache. I have a book in my library which describes a first century christian epitaph which reads in part, “…son of the beloved fish” where “fish” in Greek is “ichthus,” an acrostic of the Greek phrase which translates literally as “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour.” Incidentally, this use of “fish” originates as basically a code-word in times of persecution… and when I see its symbol in chrome on the back of a Mercedes, it makes me want to barf. But that’s an aside.
So these years ago, I considered what epitaph I might compose for myself, and I came up with this: “He loved God, and surely God must have loved him.” Lest this not be quite understood (it seems clear enough to me, but then of course it would), it has intentional overtones of Matthew 27:54, where at the death of Jesus, a centurion observes to those with him, “Surely, this man was the Son of God!” The point is that even the “unknowing” can see the obvious truth of a matter. I want my life to be characterized by love for God, but I also want the fruit of my life to appear to others (the “unknowing”) as God’s blessing in my life. Anyway, this is what I came up with some while back. Perhaps today I would think of the motto with which I began this blog: “Live your faith. Share your life.” In a way, if I achieve that, the earlier epitaph might be fulfilled… so perhaps my ultimate epitaph would be, “He lived his faith, and he shared his life.” Really, it’s just a variation of, “He loved God, and he loved others.” Now there’s an epitaph. As The Jesus Creed, maybe this would have been Jesus’ epitaph that is, if he’d stayed put in the grave long enough to need one.
And this, of course, brings us back to Ben Franklin’s epitaph, and our future hope. Here’s to the “New and More Elegant Edition Revised and Corrected By the Author.” So ultimately if you could whether this is rhetorical or not what epitaph would you write for yourself?