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A Custom Worth Keeping

In the South, it is customary for motorists to pull off to the side of the road and stop after meeting a funeral procession. This is a custom worth keeping.

I admit, there have been times as a motorist that I have breathed a big sigh and mumbled a word or two of disgruntlement when encountering a funeral procession. What a selfish attitude. It’s typical, though, of our culture. We are usually in a hurry to get wherever we are going. If there is any delay or detour, we grow impatient. After all, the world revolves around us, right? So we like to think.

But as a minister I am involved in several funeral processions throughout the year. Riding in the lead car in this somber procession, I have an opportunity to see it from a different perspective. On occasion, I have been a part of a funeral procession as a family member. Believe it or not, it’s very comforting for a family to see automobiles pulling off the road and stopping as the hearse takes the deceased to his or her final resting place.

In a world where reverence is often sacrificed for convenience, stopping to acknowledge someone’s grief shows respect for the deceased and respect for those who are grieving.

The world never seems to stop to acknowledge our pain. But for a brief few moments as a funeral procession makes its way to the cemetery, it seems as if the world stops. It feels as if life is in slow motion. As strangers pull their automobiles to the side of the road, as pedestrians pause and place their hands on their hearts, as policemen stand at attention and salute as the hearse passes, people are reminded that reverence matters.

It matters to the family. If we are going to maintain a sense of dignity and respect as a people, it should matter to our society.

Though it’s a brief inconvenience for motorists, it’s also an opportunity for busy people to stop momentarily and be reminded that life will end for us all. The Psalmist wrote, “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Ps 103:15-16).

We’d much rather keep driving and not give much thought to that, hadn’t we? But if we trade contemplation for busyness, we are likely to miss the most important reverence of all: the reverence for God, the author of life and the one who holds the keys to death.

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga.