Once I had a deacon whose brother-in-law died. We’ll call him “Billy Ray” (not his real name). As far as the deacon knew, his brother-in-law did not have a pastor, so they asked me to conduct the service. But at the cemetery a preacher showed up that nobody knew anything about. Let me explain.
After the funeral that morning, everybody went home to eat lunch. Then we planned to meet at the cemetery 60 miles to the north, for an afternoon graveside service.
I rode with the funeral director to the cemetery. As we arrived, we noticed a little old man in a suit, standing by the freshly dug grave. I went over to meet him while the funeral director set flowers around the grave. The man in the suit explained that he was a retired pastor, and said, “The family asked me to help with the burial.” Although I was unaware that he was to help, I told him it was fine, and I asked if he would like to read scripture or give the final prayer. He opted to let me read scripture first, and he would conclude the service.
Soon the family drove up and filed into their seats under the funeral tent. I introduced the retired pastor with the explanation, “The family asked him to help, and after I read scripture, he will lead us in prayer.” Family members smiled, and so I began.
I read about the resurrection from 1 Corinthians 15, and the comforting words of Psalm 23. Then I stepped back and let the older minister speak. He immediately began to talk about what fine man “Johnny” was! I cringed when he mentioned the wrong name, and then he said it again; he talked about “Johnny” instead of “Billy Ray” two more times, before closing in prayer.
After the prayer, we both greeted the family members in their seats, shaking hands and hugging each one. Nobody had the heart to tell the other minister that he was at the wrong grave. I didn’t tell him. The family didn’t tell him. What good would it do then? After a few more minutes, I got into the funeral director’s car and waved good-bye to the preacher, as the director blurted out, “Who was that man?”
As soon as I got back to town, I made a beeline to the home where family members had gathered, to apologize. I told them, “I am so sorry. We never mentioned Billy Ray by name. I assumed he was at the right place.” They all laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it, preacher. It cheered us up; we laughed about it all the way home.”
Scripture says that God “comforts us in all our troubles,” and he even uses us to “comfort those in any trouble” (2 Corinthians 1:4, NIV). God used that pastor to bring comfort to the family, even though he didn’t plan to be at the wrong place.
On the other hand, I’ve always wondered if “Johnny” has family members still standing around somewhere, waiting for their minister to show up.
(Copyright 2011 by Bob Rogers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read my blog at www.holyhumor.blogspot.com.)