Graveside services never last long.
In most cases, we’ve already had a funeral. As we stand there at the grave I open by saying something like, “What words can I come up with to put into perspective what these final moments mean to us? So, let’s listen to words of scripture that have inspired generations of believers.”
Most of a graveside service is scripture reading. Yes, I pray and ask God to grant rest to the saint before us. We ask God to bring those of us still alive closer in unity and to prepare us for a life spent in service to others. But most of what you’ll hear me say is from God’s word.
One of the readings we share is from John 12. Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” I won’t read anymore because you’ve already heard me read the rest in the opening.
If we honor the person who has died, then their memory becomes our inspiration. They become the grain planted and we the fruit of their witness to Christ. As I reflect on that today, I’m thinking about my church home.
I am a member of the Rio Texas Annual Conference. If you aren’t familiar with what that means, I’ll explain. Your local United Methodist Church is part of a district, which is a cluster of surrounding churches in a geographic area. The district is joined with others and makes up a larger annual conference.
Several years ago, my annual conference began as a merger of two older annual conferences, the Rio Grande Annual Conference and the South West Texas Annual Conference. I had the blessing of being a part of both conferences. Most of my Christian discipleship began in the Rio Grande Conference. It wasn’t until years later I transferred to the SWTX Conference.
There’s a lot I could say about what both conferences mean to me. But let it suffice to say both represent important seasons of faith for me that I thank God for. Several years ago, just before the merger happened, I heard an impassioned sermon about new life. The sermon was related to Jesus’ words in John 12 and the probable merger.
The line from the preacher that got me went something like, “If our new conference is going to build new bridges, the old conferences are going to have to die. The Rio Grande Annual Conference needs to die. The Southwest Texas Annual Conference needs to die.”
As someone who loved both conferences, that was hard to hear. But it was truth. That’s why I was disappointed when we came up with our new conference name: Rio Texas. I understand namesakes and all, but it felt like we were already choosing to stifle our potential new life.
Okay, if annual conference talk doesn’t mean much to you, here’s why this is important. We don’t like dying to ourselves. I’m not sure we really know what it means. Yes, we have an on-paper understanding, but how do you live in such a way that you give up your life? We know Jesus literally gave up his life, but we don’t even like giving up our way of doing things.
In John 12, Jesus knew his death was near. He also knew what his death would mean for the disciples and for all humanity. His death would lead to his resurrection. His resurrection would lead to our new life.
While we may not have to be put to death on a cross, we are called to take up our cross. We do need to think about whether we’ve actually put our desires ahead of God’s. We don’t have to actually die to die to ourselves. Dying to yourself is a choice that impacts the way you live today. Maybe one way to determine if you’re walking this way is to ask yourself, what new life do I see God raising around me, through me and within me?