McCain’s Funeral: Who Had The Last Word?

Jim and I watched every minute of John McCain’s funeral. It is a rare moment to watch an important moment in history unfold as it happens. I had another blog post planned but wanted to share this thought instead. What is a life well lived? I think some very important people offered an answer to that question in their memorials to John McCain.

Sadly, the media is spending more time discussing who wasn’t there than who was. John McCain planned his own funeral and had every right to do so. Sadder still is the unusual reputation of a man who was admired and loved by leaders on both sides of Congress. I hope McCain’s lasting legacy will be on the men and women who have been elected to serve our nation.

A hero should be appreciated and studied. What should we, as Christians, understand about the unity displayed at McCain’s memorial service, and how can we apply that understanding to our own witness to the world? I think the final words of each eulogy give that answer.

John McCain chose his daughter, Meghan, to give the family eulogy. She spoke from the heart, and all of us caught a glimpse of the senator as a father. I cried with her as she said, “My father is gone and my sorrow is immense, but I know his life, and I know it was great because it was good. And as much as I hate to see him go, I do know how it ended. I know that on the afternoon of August 25th in front of Oak Creek in Arizona, surrounded by the family he loved so much, an old man shook off the scars of battle one last time and arose a new man to pilot one last flight up and up and up, busting clouds left and right, straight on through to the kingdom of heaven. And he slipped the earthly bonds, put out his hand, and touched the face of God. I love you, dad.”

It looked like Cindy McCain was holding her breath as ninety-five-year-old Henry Kissinger slowly walked to a podium. It had been placed in a lower position on the platform than the other speakers used. It was difficult for the elderly statesman to stand and turn the pages of his speech. I think Kissinger’s speech was one of the most profound messages I have ever heard. He concluded his words saying, “The world will be lonelier without John McCain, his faith in America and his instinctive sense of moral duty. None of us will ever forget how even in his parting John has bestowed on us a much-needed moment of unity and renewed faith in the possibilities of America. Henceforth, the country’s honor is ours to sustain.”

George Bush spoke of McCain’s humility, saying, “One of his books ended with the words ‘and I moved on.’ John has moved on. He would probably not want us to dwell on it, but we are better for his presence among us. The world is smaller for his departure, and we will remember him as he was, unwavering, undimmed, unequalled.”

I admired McCain for inviting Barack Obama, his rival in the presidential race, to speak. Even the former president commented how surprised he was to have been asked. Obama concluded his words by saying, “That’s perhaps how we honor him best, by recognizing that there are some things bigger than party or ambition or money or fame or power, that there’s some things that are worth risking everything for. Principles that are eternal. Truths that are abiding. At his best, John showed us what that means. For that, we are all deeply in his debt. May God bless John McCain. May God bless this country he served so well.”

Joe Lieberman is a Jewish Democrat and was one of McCain’s best friends and political companions. They often canceled out one another’s vote on the Senate floor. But no one listening could miss the honest grief Lieberman felt at the passing of his friend. He finished his heartfelt words by saying, “In that sense for many people in the life of the spirit, Jerusalem, the shining city on the hill are really heaven, and it is to that heavenly Jerusalem where I am confident the soul of John Sidney McCain III is going now. I want to imagine that there is going to be a beautiful home waiting for him there with a balcony from which he can contemplate the shining city and hopefully inspire us here on earth to conduct ourselves with just some of the patriotism, principles and courage that characterize his magnificent life of service to America and to so many noble causes greater than himself. Godspeed, dear friend. may angels sing you to your eternal home.”

Lindsay Graham is John McCain’s best friend and was given the final word at the memorial service. McCain planned his service; therefore, this is the message he chose to be the last word. Graham’s grief was visible, but his voice was strong as he read a passage from the gospel of John. McCain wanted to echo these words of Christ as his last message to all of us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13).

A lot of people disagree with some of the positions and policies of John McCain. Very few people find disagreement with the person he chose to be. That is a message to all of us today. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Wouldn’t it be great if the last words in our memorial service could be, “Our friend was a great disciple of Christ”? The goal to “love one another” could impact every choice, every word, and every attitude of our lives, if we would simply choose to try. I think John McCain would be pleased to know he helped us aim a little higher.