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Martin Wiles

Martin Wiles

"And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment." Hebrews 9:27 NLT

I walked to the casket and sheepishly peered in.

Nothing appeared out of the ordinary about this funeral visitation. In the South, it’s the way we do things - most of the time. A death occurs. The family makes arrangements for their loved one. Visitation happens the night before the funeral or just prior to. Following the funeral, the body - or ashes - is taken to the cemetery for burial.

I lingered in the visitation line, a line that snaked around corners and through several rooms. As I got closer to the casket, I could see friends and acquaintances greeting the family members. I supposed this person must have been special … must have influenced countless people … must have touched numerous lives. Perhaps he was famous. I only attended out of duty. Some family members had trouble composing themselves. Others smiled as they hugged and shook hands with those who came to show support and give comfort.

As the line shortened, I heard bits and pieces of conversations. “He sure does look good.” (Personally, I’ve never understood how a dead person can look good.) “I’m sure sorry for your loss.” “If there’s anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to call.” Just the normal things people say when they try to comfort someone - when they really have no idea what to say.

Finally, it came my turn to step forward. But something strange about the family members struck me - and something strange about the person in the casket. As things evolved into focus, I noticed they were my children and grandchildren. My spouse stood beside them, and I lay in the casket.

It had happened just as the biblical writer said. I had done what every human being must do: die. But I must have done lots of good things along my life’s journey because masses of people were here to comfort my family, share stories and tell how I had touched their lives. I wondered what I had done. I wished I had been able to stand by them as those in the line passed by so I could have heard their remarks.

Life is short, death is certain, and eternity is sure. Three of the points in the first funeral sermon I delivered 30 years ago. Points that are still true and will remain valid when I deliver my final funeral sermon.

And since life is short and death is certain - and since every funeral reminds us of this - we should stop often to consider our goals, aspiration and priorities. And also what type of influence we’re having on others.

We only have one life. Let’s live it well.

What difference is death’s certainty making in the way you live?

Martin Wiles is managing editor of Christian Devotions, assistant editor of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and author of Grits & Grace & God and Grits, Gumbo and Going to Church. His work is featured at


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