he pyramids of Egypt are some of the most famous structures in the world. Most of us probably know that they served as burial chambers for the Pharaohs. But archaeologists report that preparation for death was important right across Egyptian society, not just for Pharaohs.
For the Egyptians the path to eternal life was fraught with dangers, demons, and false trails. One must be well prepared. The Book of the Dead provided instructions, tips, and incantations for the soul on their journey to the underworld. The book was often excerpted on coffins and tombs, or the complete scrolls might be placed in the tomb.
The last ordeal on the path to eternity was the weighing of the deceased’s heart. This would determine their fitness for joining the land of the gods. Applicants who passed were welcomed by Osiris; a too-heavy heart laden with evil was devoured by a monster and the spirit banished into darkness.
Christian faith of course sees death very differently. The path to eternal life is not fraught with danger, but has been made simple and open by Christ. And while our hearts may be weighed, it is not the degree of evil found within them that will matter but the presence of faith in Christ, who forgives all our sin and welcomes us into his presence.
Source: Archaeological information from Discovering Archaeology website.
There was a woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as as she was getting her things “in order,” she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. The woman also requested to be buried with her favourite Bible. Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.
“There’s one more thing,” she excitedly.
“What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply.
“This is very important,” the woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”
The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. “That surprises you, doesn’t it?” the woman asked.
“Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the pastor.
The woman explained. “In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners I always remember that when the dishes were cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork.’ It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming… like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful and of substance! So I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, ‘What’s with the fork?’ Then I want you to tell them: ‘Keep your fork… the best is yet to come.’
The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman goodbye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of heaven that he did. She knew that something better was coming.
At the funeral people were walking by the woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing and her favourite Bible and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the pastor heard the question, “What’s with the fork?” And over and over he smiled.
During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and what it symbolized to her. The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either. He was right. So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you oh so gently, that the best is yet to come.
A man tells the story about a special friend he made while just a boy. When quite young, Paul’s father had one of the first telephones in their neighbourhood. Paul was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when his mother talked to it.
Then Paul discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person – her name was “Information, Please” and there was nothing she did not know.
“Information, Please” could supply anybody’s number and the correct time. Paul’s first personal experience with this genie-in the-bottle came one day while his mother was visiting a neighbour. Amusing himself at the tool bench in the basement, Paul hacked his finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn’t seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. He walked around the house sucking his throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway.
Quickly, Paul ran for the foot stool in the parlour and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, he unhooked the receiver in the parlour and held it to his ear. “Information, Please,” he said into the mouthpiece just above his head.
A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into Paul’s ear.
“I hurt my finger,” Paul wailed into the phone.
“Isn’t your mother home?” came the question.
“Nobody’s home but me” Paul blubbered.
“Are you bleeding?” the voice asked.
“No,” he replied. “I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts.”
“Can you open your icebox?” she asked. He said he could. “Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger,” said the voice.
After that, Paul called “Information, Please” for everything. He asked her for help with his geography and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped him with his maths. She told Paul that his pet chipmunk, which he had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts. Then, there was the time Petey, the pet canary died. Paul called and told her the sad story.
She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child, but Paul was inconsolable. He asked her, “Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?”
She must have sensed his deep concern, for she said quietly, “Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in.” Somehow he felt better. .
When Paul was nine years old, his family moved across the country to Boston. Paul missed his friend very much. “Information, Please” belonged in that old wooden box back home, and he somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.
As he grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left him. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity Paul would recall the serene sense of security he had then. He appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.
A few years later, on his way west to college, Paul’s plane put down in Seattle. He had about half an hour or so between planes. He spent 15 minutes on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what he was doing, Paul dialled his hometown operator and said, “Information, Please.”
Miraculously, he heard the small, clear voice he knew so well, “Information.”
He hadn’t planned this but he heard myself saying, “Could you please tell me how to spell fix?”
There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer, “I guess your finger must have healed by now.” Paul laughed. “So it’s really still you,” he said. “I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time.”
“I wonder,” she said, “if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls.” Paul told her how often he had thought of her over the years and asked if he could call her again when he came back to visit his sister.
“Please do,” she said. “Just ask for Sally.”
Three months later Paul was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, “Information.” He asked for Sally. “Are you a friend?” She asked.
“Yes, a very old friend,” Paul answered.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she said. “Sally has been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago.”
Before he could hang up she said, “Wait a minute. Is this Paul?”
“Yes,” Paul replied.
“Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you.” The note said, “Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He’ll know what I mean.”
Application: Listening – Information Please gave Paul one of the most precious yet simple gifts a person can give, the gift of listening.
Application: Hope, Death, Heaven. “There are other world’s to sing in”. Beyond death lies the hope of a new life.
Application: Community, Friendship. This story reminds us that we need each other. Information Please and Paul both had their lives enriched in powerful yet simple ways by the gift of their friendship with one another.
Application: Children. We adults often make the mistake of dismissing the concerns of small children. Yet coping with the death of a budgie or telling someone that you’ve hurt your finger are the things that are important to a small child. Sally reminds us of the importance of being attentive to the needs of children, not expecting them to function as mini adults but nurturing their journey as children.
One of the hit films of 2000 was Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe. The film centres on the Roman General Maximus, a man who holds onto his integrity at all costs.
Just before his death Marcus Aurelius tells Maximus of his dream that power be returned to the people and asks Maximus to become the Protector of Rome who ensures this is achieved. Maximus responds that he cannot do this, for he is never live din Rome, nor is he of Senatorial rank. Besides, he doesn’t want power. He simply wants to get home from the war and resume life with his family on his farm. Aurelius replies “It is precisely because you don’t want it that you must take it.” Aurelius sees Maximus’ integrity.
This integrity stands in stark contrast to Aurelius’ power hungry son Commodius, who will do anything to gain the title of Emperor, even murdering his father.
Seeing Maximus as a potential rival Commodius orders him, his wife and his young son murdered. Maximus escapes, but is unable to save his family. He is captured, sold into slavery and forced to fight as a gladiator. He fights with vastly superior ability to everyone he meets in the ring and eventually comes to Rome where he grows famous among the people. Once his true identity is revealed his fame again makes him a rival to the Emperor. Commodius’ rivals, who like Aurelius wish to restore power to the people, plot to have Maximus released from slavery and returned to his army, whereupon he will march on Rome, take it, restore power to the Senate, then leave. As was Marcus Aurelius, so these senators are so confident in Maximus’ integrity they know he will walk away from power having gained it.
At the climax of the film Commodius himself fights the Gladiator Maximus with both killed and power thus restored to the people.
What holds the key to Maximus’ integrity. It is revealed early in the film where he cries to his troops, “What we do in this life leaves echoes in eternity”.