The stern faced minister presiding over the funeral intoned, “James 2:20 teaches us that faith without works is dead.” Angular and lean, the pinch-faced man spoke in a voice dripping with authority. Deep, sure of itself, the kind of tone that sways the undecided and convicts the unconvictable.
Hanging on every word spoken by the respected minister, the crowd drew closer, some of them nearly touching the ornate black casket and its expensive gold trimming.
Standing at a raised podium with the sun at his back, the minister towered over the crowd, the harsh backlight making him appear more like a shadow than the pastor of the local church…not that any of them could mistake the fire in his voice.
“So many of us,” the voice preached emphatically, “fail to apply that simple, critical teaching.”
Sweeping the dark shape of his arm over the beautifully wrought casket, the minister advised, “We can’t say that about the dearly departed though. No, it is through his works that Frank Brady will remain alive in our hearts forever.”
A handful of, “Amen’s,” issued softly forth from the graveside crowd, the affirming words temporarily drowning out the quiet tears and sniffles common to funerals.
The minister’s shadow-darkened head nodded toward a nun with tears running down her cheeks. “Which of us,” he said, “can forget the financial contributions Frank made, particularly the donations that saved Sister Mary’s orphanage?”
Heads shook as if such a thing would be impossible to consider.
The speaker glanced down, seeing the town’s heavyset librarian on her knees, using both hands in a vain attempt to stifle her weeping. Sympathetically shaking his head, he asked quietly, “And do you recall his physical labor to improve our community, his tireless work to help build our library?”
Nods all around, except from the woman on the ground, who finally gave up trying to hide her cries. The tears turned to loud sobs, several women rushing to comfort the distraught librarian.
Watching the compassionate response, the minister extended his right hand toward the supportive women. “I’m heartened to see townspeople caring for one another like this. Frank would be proud of you ladies, since he so loved helping others in their time of distress. In fact, I count Frank’s work as the guiding force behind our disaster relief program among his greatest achievements.” The dark shape shook its head before adding, “Truly, I marveled daily at his energy and mental acuity, knowing I could never match it.”
Standing some distance back from the crowd, watching as the minister delivered his heartfelt eulogy, was an onlooker leaning casually on a shovel. Dressed in green coveralls bearing the cemetery’s name, Lionel Jameson waited patiently for the ceremony to conclude. While the minister bore the responsibility of handling the send off, Lionel did the actual sending.
Those that didn’t know him said Jameson wasn’t quite right in the head; that he talked to himself. Knowing the actual truth, he didn’t mind the rumors. After two decades working funerals, he’d simply developed connections others couldn’t see.
Eventually, Lionel’s patience paid off. The graveside service came to an end, distraught figures walking back to their cars, back to their lives, leaving him alone with the most expensive coffin he’d ever seen.
Waiting for the last of the cars to drive away, Lionel walked down the gentle slope. Laying aside his shovel, he put two hands on the casket and began shoving the wheeled cart it sat upon. Rolling easily, he pushed it away from the empty grave, toward the crematorium.
“What are you doing?” asked a knowing voice behind him.
“Hi, Michael,” Lionel replied to the invisible figure. “After donating his money, the city realized he couldn’t afford a proper burial. They wanted it to look good anyway.” The gravedigger turned, responding to empty air, “But you knew that already.”
“Yes,” said the angel, shaking his head. “A rental coffin…the lengths people will go for appearances.”
Reaching the crematorium entrance, Lionel pushed the casket inside and then opened it. Carefully lifting the body out, he transferred it into a simple pine box.
“It was a good service, Michael, don’t you think?”
“Mostly, but they missed the point.”
Opening the crematory furnace and positioning the lesser coffin before it, Lionel asked, “What do you mean?”
“It’s simple, really. Faith without works is dead, but works without faith…” the angel paused, watching the pine box being shoved into the greedy flames, “…is hell.”
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