Monday, June 6, 2016

Journey with Joseph # 8 - "Dearly Departed"

Recently, my mom and I were reading over some family history and came across my uncles James and Thomas Lemon, who fought with the Virginia 8th Infantry during the Civil War. How chilling it was to read Col. Eppa Hutton’s report after the battles of Boonsboro and Sharpsburg, yet how stirring to remember the bravery of men who fearlessly defended their home state! This past Monday, we celebrated Memorial Day, which has a long history of honoring our heroic dead. The holiday originated as Decoration Day at the end of May, 1868. In the wake of the Civil War, the United States declared a day for decorating the graves of fallen American soldiers. The South, however, refused to acknowledge the day, observing a different day to remember Confederate soldiers. However, after World War I, Memorial Day was declared for the last Monday in May to honor all slain soldiers from all American wars. Today, Memorial Day part of a three-day holiday during which we honor the slain who died defending the country. The way we honor the dead (not just fallen heroes but all of our dearly departed) says a lot about what kind of people they were, and who we are as well.

Today as we close our journey through the life of Joseph, we see how the dearly departed deserve the reverence we give them. Verses 1-14 talk about the death of Jacob (Israel), and how he is honored not only by his own descendants, but by the house of Pharaoh himself. Joseph throws himself on top of his father and weeps, demonstrating how appropriate it is to display the deep emotions you feel at a loved one’s passing. Probably on the government dime, Israel is mummified Egyptian-style. Then, Joseph honors his dad’s final request, which was not to be buried in Egypt, but to be buried back home in Canaan. So in royal procession they return with the body and bury him in a family-owned grave near Mamre. From these verses we learn how important it is to show our grief, and also to do our best to honor the memory of our dearly departed by fulfilling their final requests, whenever possible.

Then, in verses 15-21 (NASB), we learn that part of good grieving is to make peace with our past. Joseph reiterates his forgiveness for his brother’s failures. “But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Just as Joseph’s family needed to make peace with their past, so we need to reconcile, when possible, with those who have wounded us. Recently, I buried my uncle Harry. Because that side of the family had been feuding for years, I took the opportunity during the eulogy to remind them that life is short and we have too much living to do, to hold grudges. I called them out on their petty squabbles, encouraged forgiveness, and asked them to let this tragedy reunite them. And to some degree, it has. Parts of the family that have been long disconnected are reconnecting, and it’s beautiful to see. Honoring our dearly departed means making peace with each other, and peace with the past.

Then we read of Joseph’s death, and how it teaches us to honor the past but look to the future. Joseph prophesies that one day his family (the Jewish nation) will return to Canaan from Egypt. Verses 24-25 (NASB) say, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.’” Joseph wanted them to honor him by mummifying him in the same fashion as his father. But then he wanted his descendants to have their eyes focuses forward rather than resting on the glories of the past. He knew that just as the past can teach us, it can also bind us. He did not want his sons and daughters to remain in Egyptian slavery simply that’s where their heritage lay. He wanted them to carry their past with them into the future that God was giving them. God wants the same thing for you—to be able to cherish the past but venture into the plan that God has for you. In a way, we all carry our ancestors into the Promised Land, if we honor our dearly departed but then forge our own way.

Exodus 13:19 (NASB) says, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, ‘God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones from here with you.’” Joshua 24:32 (NASB) continues, “Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph’s sons.” Shechem was remembered as the place where Jacob buried false gods (Genesis 35:4), so that’s where Joseph wanted his remains to rest. Joseph knew that people have a tendency to turn the past into an idol, to worship relics and to cling to the ways of their ancestors so that they don’t move into the future. Joseph knew that when his time was gone, he should be remembered but then he should be laid to rest. He wanted his people to be able to honor their dearly departed without worshiping them as false god. In the same way, we need to be able to look to the past but press on to the future.

2 Corinthians 5:7 (NLT) says, “For we live by believing and not by seeing.” When we live by sight, we set our sails by what we’ve known in the past. That only keeps us going backward. When we walk by faith, our course is set in a direction that we don’t understand, but we believe that God has a Promised Land ahead of us, and that the best is yet to come. I pray you’ll look to the undiscovered country that God has in store, and that you’ll do it by looking ahead.

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