Christians suffer with hope (Romans 5:3-5).
Our suffering allows us to share in the sufferings of Christ and make the Word of God fully known (Colossians 1:24-26).
Resurrection of a suffering servant, and eventually all of the LORD’s suffering servants, is the distinctive reality that sets us, the Redeemed, apart from every other faith. The Resurrection is our hope.
However, Resurrection, like the Word of God itself, is one of those double edges swords. The Promise of the Scriptures is that all will be raised from the grave and brought to a day of Judgement (1 Corinthians 15). At the time of death, this can either be a very comforting, or a very terrifying, thing. Homilies and Eulogies are the battlegrounds where the tension of that objective reality must be dealt with in God exalting ways. That time is not for the dead, but for the living. Let me explain…
I grew up in a very broken home growing up. Dad used alcohol to escape deep suffering and Mom suffered with deep depression as a result of trying to “keep it all together”. We are family well equipped in the suffering of this world. As soon as I could leave home, I did. Failure was the driving fear and success was the idol of choice. What appeared to be greener pastures, ultimately led to a graphic suicide attempt when the idol of a shiny pair of pilot wings lost their luster in the wake of deep exisential suffering.
In the midst of deep, deep, deep suffering, the LORD pulled me away from myself while in hospital recovery, gave me a new heart through circumsion by the Holy Spirit, and set my feet upon the Rock of Jesus Christ. God saved me in the midst of suffering so that I could be an instrument of His Grace in the midst of deep suffering, serving Him in the guise of a Biblical Counselor. He has fashioned me for that purpose. It is clear.
What wasn’t clear was how I was going to eulogize my Dad on Friday, 08 June 2012, within the assemblied congregation of a Mother, Brother, Sister, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Neighbors, Co-Workers, Drinking Buddies, and supervising Clergy within the Roman Catholic Church of my biological birth. Fear of failure and the pride associated with ministry of the Word were gripping at my heart to find a tie off.
To be honest, until the preceding Tuesday, I was really terrified of how to proceed. You see, on the one hand, I am planning on returning home to Scranton/Dunmore, PA to church plant in a few years. Brutal facts and insensitive honesty would shipwreck my future ministry. On the other hand, I will one day be raised before a Sovereign Judge of the Universe to give an account of why I choose the words I used. In that day, Christ’s atoning sacrifice will be my only plea, however I wanted God to get Glory from the death of my Father. I wanted to see Redemption of the unsaved unfold beneath my gaze over the assembled congregation of the saints.
When fear strikes the human heart, our response should be prayer. I can’t always say that has been the case, but the Lord was good to prepare me with previous suffering in order to see my need to rely on Him in this circumstance and not myself. It really is true that the Lord pours forth Hope and Grace in our suffering (Romans 5:3-5).
So, on Tuesday night, I headed to the Capouse House for prayer at 6:00pm. Capouse House is a recent prayer ministry started by Aaron McNany back home in Scranton, PA. Aaron was also the man of God that I met over Christmas 2011 that the Lord brought into my path to help disciple my sister, April, and her recently converted boyfriend, Andy. I was desperate for direction from the Lord in how to proceed and I needed to be surrounded by the prayers of the saints.
The community that I found at Capouse House overwhelmed me. You see, this evening, unbeknowst to me prior to arriving, the Lord had brought together prayer ministry leaders from the surrounding area to pray over the direction of prayer for Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA). Literally, the Lord provided me with some of the most dedicated prayer warriors in NEPA. Prayer answered.
It was a sweet time of prayer. When I say sweet, picture honey on the lips or the most succulent strawberry that you have tasted. It was prayer dominated by the Word. We were praying, singing, and meditating upon His Word in ways that I have little often found in Dallas. In fact, the leader of the prayer driven worship during our time was Joshua Manarchuck, a Messianic Jewish prayer leader from a nearby town, that turns out is world reknowned. We made our requests. We asked the Spirit for Scranton and Dunmore. We are waiting expectantly.
Meanwhile, I had to write a Eulogy. I started to pack my bag and, lo and behold, my phone rang from one of my best friends in Fort Worth, TX. I answered. Quote, “Tom, I am driving through a town called…hmm, let me see here…Dunmore and just passed a tank…”
I nearly jumped through the roof of the Capouse House. My best friend James Anderson had flown into Scranton, rented a car, and was headed my way to support me during this trying week. Oh, the Grace that the Lord gave me this week. Thank you Jesus!
James came over to Capouse House, which is literally two blocks away from a possible future church plant, and he met the other prayer team members. We went out to one of our favorite pizza places in “The Pizza Capital of the World” in Old Forge, PA. We talked, we prayed, and I rejoiced. God was sweet to overwhelm me. When I say overwhelm, I mean think of Jonah sinking to the depths tangled up in the forest of seaweed below, but in a good way. We headed home, I got the soundest sleep I had in a while. I woke at 3:30 to head back to the Capouse House and the Eulogy was written in literally an hour and a half. The Spirit provided the text and my fingers couldn’t type fast enough.
The next morning, I made an appointment to run it by the supervising priest, Father Doris, to make sure it was both honoring to my Father and not damaging to the Catholic Church. I won’t go into the details here, but the Lord was sweet during this time. This is a story worth a blog post of its own. Father Doris offered his direct feedback and helped me to tighten the narrative. Like my Father who I was eulogizing, Father Doris has a poetic heart and skilled in his craft. It’s the Irish coursing through our veins.
Some of the cuts were deep, but the Lord proved Sovereign and in control of all things. The following day, the day of my Father’s wake on Thursday, my mother called at 7:30 with trembling in her voice. She was scared and I offered prayer and meditation over Psalm 91 using the Biblical Counseling Through Song technique that I am developing. Of deeply spiritual significance, the last time I spoke with my Dad in person was our praying of Psalm 91 during a very terrifying spiritual attack. It was the last time that I spoken face to face with my Dad. The Lord was proving that He was with me. Prayer answered.
I made the corrections and sent the draft off for publishing – we made some handouts so that those in attendance could follow along.
The morning of the funeral had come. James and I headed off into the woods near my Grandmother’s (Nana’s) house by a local reservoir in Dunmore for a prayer walk. This particular walk has much significance, but again, this is a post for another time and day. James and I asked the Father, through Jesus, by the power of the Spirit for the hearts of my family and those in attendance. We waited expectantly for His fruit.
It was time to head to the funeral home for the start of my long Last Goodbye. Our family came once again into the presence of the opened coffin. We paid our last respects in person. Mom kissed Dad’s lips and sweeped her hand through his hair for the last time. Most cried. His best friend from high school, who also is a former Funeral Director and father of Dad’s current Funeral Director, that recently was stricken with a stroke impairing his vocal communication kissed and caressed my Dad in his last, long goodbye. Although he could not speak his final words to my Dad, the loving embrace was a tribute to a fallen friend. I was overwhelmed.
It was time for my last, long goodbye. I had two gifts to leave in my Dad’s coffin – my Academy Basic Cadet Training Bible that I had received in Jack’s Valley and a graduation saber that I gifted him at Graduation. The Bible laid under the crucifix attached in his coffin. In my final salute, the saber sat sheathed at my side.
I asked the Funeral Director, Katie, to clear the coffin. I took five steps back. It was time for a Psalm 23 unsheathing of the sword to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The unspoken verbal command, “Present, Arms”. I lifted the blade out of the scabbard, arm 90 degrees parallel to the floor. Sword raised to the sky at a perfect 45 degrees. Base of the sword placed at the base up the chin. I prayed over Dad’s body for a quickened coming for the Resurrection as the sword pointed upward towards Heaven. “In Jesus Name” groaned through tears which only the Spirit understood. The unspoken verbal command, “Order, Arms”. Sword quick and neatly, in reverse fashion, returned to its resting place. The sword laid at the side of my Dad in the coffin.
You see, the Lord gave me that Cadet Bible in Jack’s Valley in Colorado Springs, CO, but I never unsheathed it from its scabbard until the Lord broke me in Pilot Training in Texas. He broke my heart following a suicide attempt and drew me into the Family of God, to rest with Him in His Kingdom. The sword was given at graduation, unsheathed, and presented to my Dad as a token graduation gift.
A sheathing and unsheathing was occurring in my final salute now. The sword of violence, given as a token, was laid to rest at my Father’s side. His suffering in this world over. The Sword of the Spirit was unsheathed and breathed to Our Father in the heat of a raging spiritual war in the heart of my Father’s son. My prayers uttered. I set my eyes towards the Eulogy.
I was also a pall bearer, which gave me time to think about the weight of Glory awaiting us in Heaven as we bore the weight of the earthly remains of my Father. It was a burden good to share with six other men in our family. We brought my Father to the altar. I sat next to Mom and followed the order of service. A reading from the Old Testament, “Shepherd Me Oh God” sung, a reading from the New Testament, a homily by Father Doris, and then communion. The procession of the saints strewn towards the altar to receive the Body of Christ. The final wafer given to the last straggling saint, “Body of Christ, broken for you and for all”, response “Amen”. Father Doris sits and calls me to the podium for the Eulogy.
To be honest, I knew I was speaking the Eulogy, but it was that weird sensation that the Lord was speaking through me. Those that preach the Word know what I mean. The words spoken:
How do you know my Father? Do you know him as Tom? Or Tommy? Maybe, Murph?, As a Husband? As Dad? As a Brother?, As a Friend? As an Uncle? As a Neighbor? Or his Co-Worker. How do you know our Father?
When I think of my Dad. My best thoughts remember Him as a poet. A man who best expressed his love for us in words of poetry and song. Reflecting on my birth, He penned,
I kiss your head as you lay sleeping,
and softly smile as I watch you creeping.
These baby years are fleeing by,
and as they leave they’ll see me cry.
As a tiny baby you were all mine.
with your satin skin and eyes sublime –
Funny faces, little coos,
crying anytime you choose.
Gone too quickly are the nights,
when Mama rocks you,
holds you tight;
Chases big bad wolfs away,
pats your tiny hands in play.
Birthday Number One is here!
It chased away Tommy’s first year.
I watched you step and guided your hands.
As we wave bye-bye to Babyland.
Love, Mom and Dad…
At Chris’s first birthday, he wrote,
So, today is your birthday,
You made it to One.
You came into this world,
My number Two Son.
Your pride for your father,
a joy for your Mom.
But most of all,
you’re a companion to Tom!
Friends you will be for all time,
to care, to share for each other in times,
of gladness and sadness of your lives.
Bonded by blood, but more importantly,
But today is your birthday,
and let me explain.
It was truly a very special day.
It was August 13th,
a bright sunny day.
Just five short days,
before my birthday.
It was late at night,
Calm, and still,
until I heard you,
Screaming loud and at will.
The waiting is over,
you finally arrived.
7 ½ pounds, 20 inches,
And as I looked down,
I could clearly see.
We have another boy,
in the family.
As I looked in the mirror,
“I am Father of Two”
what a pleasant surprise.
And as your first year,
comes to a close.
There is only one wish,
we like to impose.
Happy Birthday Chris,
And hope the years that follow,
Brings you much Joy!
And for April, he poemed,
October 20th was never a big deal.
That was before our precious April appeared.
She fills our lives with such laughter and joy,
And feelings of love, only a family could enjoy.
Let me tell you what’s it like today,
For the Murphy family on this special day.
There’s Tommy and Chris,
always on guard.
There to help her and keep her,
from life’s little harms.
They’re always there to play,
and to teach her new things.
A special love,
only big brothers can bring.
Then there’s mother,
what can I say.
She’s so happy and proud,
to have her little girl today.
She just loves to care,
for her little queen for a day.
Dad is next,
that’s me of course.
Give me a moment to gather my thoughts.
Having two sons is wonderful enough,
a daughter is God smiling upon us.
She has eyes of an angel,
and lashes to match.
When she smiles and looks at you,
You can’t help but laugh.
With her perky smile and gestures so dear,
they make you realize,
life is a precious thing to bear.
So, today is your first birthday,
a very special one indeed,
And I thank God every night,
that you are here.
So from all the people that love you,
we all want to say,
Happy Birthday April!
For you are one Today!
As you can see, my Dad expressed the depth of his love for us in his poetry. Perhaps you know Him as Dad, or Husband, or Brother. Perhaps you knew Him in brokenness and suffering, but the words of his poetry give us insight into his love for us which He struggled in expressing in other ways. You see, at death, our ideas of who a man was is not a matter of concern. What matters is God’s understanding of Dad. We look at appearances, but He knows the heart. For our own comfort, we must cling to His Grace, His nature, and the power of His Resurrection. We must take our eyes from a father to Our Father.
Now to conclude the Eulogy, or Good Word, I have prepared. We look to God, Our Father, and the poetry of His Son, the Word of God who became one of us, as revealed in the Scriptures. Did you hear the words that Bella just sang in Shepherd Me O’ God?
“Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul,
You lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth,
my spirit shall sing the music of your Name.”
The Poetry the Father gives us in His Son is that God so loves the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but live with Him forever. God wants to meet us in our brokenness and give us His Life. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken spirit and contrite heart He will not despise. He sings words of Poetry and Song over us in His Scriptures, calling us to enter into His Love, for all time. Let the miracle of God’s Beauty and Love overwhelm and remain with you. May He be our true Eulogy.
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.
I continue to wait for the Lord to sweep through Scranton and Dunmore. He confirmed time and time again this week that He is with us, is going before us, and loves the people of Scranton and Dunmore. I was encouraged and overwhelmed by the response of those back home in Dunmore. My Dad was deeply loved by many people. I was humbled. In a town of 16,000 people, I had never met most of them. The Lord used my Dad to love them well – those that I had never come into contact with. My Dad was a pretty complicated man, but that is another post for another time.
For now, I wait for Redemption to pour down from Heaven. Spirit, circumcise the hearts of your people and let the Beauty of Christ be made known…Jesus, Hallelujah (“Save us ‘now’ “)! Please come quickly!
Father God, turn your Face towards us and give us peace…