At that time Herod the ruler heard the news about Jesus. He said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He’s been raised from the dead. This is why these miraculous powers are at work through him.” Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip. That’s because John told Herod, “It’s against the law for you to marry her.” Although Herod wanted to kill him, he feared the crowd because they thought John was a prophet. But at Herod’s birthday party Herodias’ daughter danced in front of the guests and thrilled Herod. Then he swore to give her anything she asked. At her mother’s urging, the girl said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a plate.” Although the king was upset, because of his solemn pledge and his guests he commanded that they give it to her. Then he had John beheaded in prison. They brought his head on a plate and gave it to the young woman, and she brought it to her mother. But John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus what had happened (Matthew 14:1-12. Common English Bible).
Early on in my ministry I had the opportunity to sit down for a long conversation with an elderly African-American United Methodist pastor. Some of the things he had to say made an impression on me that has stuck with me throughout the past 26 years.
We spent a great deal of time on the subject of funerals. He explained that in the black church, funerals were incredibly important. He said that throughout American history African-Americans have often been in the background and that it was only at their death that many moved to the forefront. Because of that the black church has always place great importance on the funeral.
That idea has stuck with me. While I will not say the average white American has experienced the same things as the average black American, for most of us, we are not famous. We have our small circles where we exist and are known but the average person, regardless of race is far from being well-known. We go through our lives and when we die most of the world doesn’t notice.
I have stood before in a cemetery that was fronted by a highway. People went speeding up and down the road, paying little, if any attention to those who grieve in the cemetery. I have even wanted to scream, “Hey world, pay attention. Someone important died.” At the same time, however, I realize to the world, they weren’t important at all.
John the Baptist was a background player too. History, of course, remembers John the Baptist. After all, while he was still in the womb, he recognized Jesus. He baptized Jesus. He knew Jesus to be the Messiah. For all that faithfulness, John the Baptist will always have a place in the historical record. He was important.
Still, throughout his life, John the Baptist was a background player. He was always someone who people saw but perhaps they didn’t really see. He baptized Jesus. He announced Jesus. But, in all these events, Jesus was the central character. John the Baptist was important, though even compared to the disciples, he was in the background. He was important because of his faithfulness. When he died, Jesus noticed. When he died God noticed.
When a person of faith passes from this life to the next, it is something important. It is not something that should remain in the background. Someone who is important in the eyes of God has left this life and moved on to the next. This person moves from the background to the forefront. And, we should never forget. We should take notice. When that person of faith died, Jesus noticed. When that person of faith died, God noticed.
We may not know the person whose funeral procession passes us on the way to the cemetery. We may not know the person who we see being buried as we drive past a cemetery. But, God did notice, and we should too. Perhaps, at times like these, when a person moves from the background to the forefront, we should say a quick prayer of Thanksgiving for that person’s life and a prayer of comfort for those who loved that person who for us may remain in the background, but on that day is in the forefront.
How can we honor the faithful who have moved to the forefront?
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy, Peace and Thanksgiving,
Copyright 2017, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved