Billy Graham recently received the highest award anyone could ever achieve: eternal life – with honors.
Reaching millions of people with the message of Christ was always Billy Graham’s goal. Dr. Graham gave his last television message in 2013 which aired on 480 stations. He wanted one final chance to make his mark known. And last week, he had that opportunity. His funeral was his last crusade. Although it was an invitation-only event, the service was broadcast by the internet with the potential of reaching billions.
The Final Crusade
I was struck by the simplicity of Billy Graham’s private funeral for the 2,000 or so invited mourners. Even more interesting was the fact that Dr. Graham planned every detail of his final crusade, with the help of his long-time friend and late music director, Cliff Barrows.
A spokesman for the Graham family, Mark DeMoss, said that the man who became known as “America’s pastor” began selecting songs, musicians, and speakers more than ten years ago. The family wanted the funeral to resemble the crusades their father preached reaching over 215 million people in his lifetime.
The service was filled with symbolism full of meaning for the family and Christians around the world. Kathie Lee Gifford, a personal friend of Graham and television personality who attended the funeral told reporters, “Who told you this is a sad day? This is a celebration. This is a triumph of a life well-lived.”
Although offered the Cathedral in the capital for the funeral, the family wanted the simple white canvas tent similar to the one in which Rev. Graham held the Los Angeles Crusade in 1949. The eight-week-long crusade began his national prominence which eventually led to more than six decades of ministry from presidents to industry workers. With the backdrop of the dark glass cross in a rustic-looking barn of the Graham library behind them, it provided the perfect spot to commemorate a godly man.
Music from his crusades with Graham’s crusade piano player included ‘congregational singing’ with songs like “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” “Until Then,” written by cowboy Stuart Hamblen, opened up the service as a reminder of the 1949 tent revival in Los Angeles in which Hamblen performed. This song was known as one of Graham’s favorites, first recorded by late friend George Beverly Shea. “Because He Lives” was performed by The Gaither Vocal Band. Michael W. Smith, who had performed at other crusades, sang “Above All.” “To God Be the Glory,” the final hymn sung by the audience, was a remembrance of the 2007 dedication of his library in Charlotte. “Amazing Grace” was played as the casket was carried to the gardens for interment by his grandchildren. Graham picked all six songs. He wanted his friends to sing and celebrate his homegoing.
Rev. Billy Graham was a man of character, integrity, and honor. He wanted to proclaim nothing more than the simple gospel – “Jesus Saves.” Even his casket conveyed that message. His son, Rev. Franklin Graham, had a simple pine casket built by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. It was lined with a single mattress and had a cross nailed to the top along with the makers’ names burned into the wood. The family asked for no upgrades; it cost around $200. Billy’s wife, Ruth, is buried in a similar casket.
According to Graham’s wishes, his gravestone is engraved with “Billy Graham, Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,” according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Under that inscription is only one Bible reference: John 14:6. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” That was his message. That was his life – even in death.
“Do I fear death? No,” Graham told Newsweek magazine in 2005. “I look forward to death, with great anticipation. I am looking forward to seeing God face to face.” I’m sure he heard the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
It inspires me to aim for that goal too.