Read: Genesis 49:29-50:21
Jacob’s remarkable life comes to an end in Egypt. His wish was to be buried in the promised land, and his wish is granted. There was great mourning for Jacob as the people honored his life and faith. A delegation of Egyptians went to Canaan with the family, in a great funeral procession. In Egypt a decree is made for an official 70 day period of mourning with tears. Jacob was not Egyptian, and his faith was foreign to them, but they coexisted in respect and honor. He must have been a great witness for God. Jacob’s story is well documented in scripture, and rightfully so.
The Bible does not treat all lives the same, and it’s not realistic to think that it could. The fanfare is repeated when Joseph dies in the next chapter, but we do not hear of the deaths of any of Joseph’s brothers. Likewise, the deaths of matriarchs: Leah, Zilpah, and Bilhah are not mentioned either. Yet, these people too helped carry the hope and responsibility of the covenant promise of God in their time and place.
In 1624 John Donne wrote the poem, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” harkening to a time in Europe when the village church bell would ring to note the death of a villager. In this verse Donne helps us affirm and appreciate our human connectedness:
“Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”
It’s not easy to hold that much empathy for all human life, but woe to us if we should forget that each one who dies has someone: family, friends, community, and God, for whom that life was precious. Woe to us if we fail to regard the principle that all life is sacred. As generations pass, the names of the headstones become unknown to the living, but that they lived, breathed, loved, and worked should matter. They built the homes we live in; the roads we drive on; the churches we worship in; and they birthed, taught, feed, and nurtured the people with whom we share life now. Every life: from the prominent to the marginalized, is a gift from God.
Pastor Rob Nystrom