Famous Last Words

King David funeral from wikipedia

The funeral of King David, while his son Solomon watches (from a medieval manuscript)

1 Kings 2:1-4 (New Living Translation)
As the time of King David’s death approached, he gave this charge to his son Solomon: “I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. If you do this, then the Lord will keep the promise he made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’”

If you look up “last words of famous people” online, a long list of sites will pop up. Presidents, movie stars, writers, criminals, heroes. Why do last words have such power? It seems as if the final utterance of a person should recap, consolidate, or serve as a capstone for that person’s life. In a This American Life broadcast on public radio, host Ira Glass said, “This is what we want from last words: a kind of summing up of who the person is.”

Often, however, that is not the case. The last words of Bing Crosby, that great singer of the mid-20th century, were reportedly: “That was a great game of golf, fellas.” (Not exactly a summary of his life.) Or the questionably authentic final words of 19th century author Oscar Wilde: “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”

But, sometimes, last words do speak volumes about who a person has been. John Wesley was the pastor who started the movement that became the Methodist Church. On his deathbed, he sang this hymn: “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath; and when my voice is lost in death, praise shall employ my nobler powers. My days of praise shall ne’er be past, while life, and thought, and being last, or immortality endures.”

We’re told that as King David’s life drew to an end, he gave to his son Solomon the words of comfort, guidance, and warning in today’s reading. It was the advice of a loving father, a wise man, a great king. And, most importantly for David, it was also the advice of a life-long servant of the God of Israel — a man who had made many mistakes, but who had always fallen back on the love of the God he served.

If you could choose your last words on earth, what would you like them to be?

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