“This is very important … I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”
Perhaps you’ve heard some variant of the story, “Keep Your Fork.” It has in recent years become a kind of internet meme. One version of it can be found here: https://www.guideposts.org/inspiration/life-after-death/why-do-people-say-keep-your-fork
In a nutshell, it’s about a woman who—having been diagnosed with a terminal illness—is meeting with her pastor to plan funeral arrangements. She tells him she wants to be buried clutching a fork, and the minister is understandably puzzled.
So she explains that—over many years of attending socials and church suppers—she noticed that whenever the main course dishes were being cleared away, someone would always tell her, “Keep your fork.”
“Then I knew that something better was coming,” she said. “Like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance!”
As her pastor listened, she went on: “I want people to see me in that casket with a fork in my hand, and I want them to wonder, ‘What’s with the fork?’ Then I want you to tell them: ‘Keep your fork; the best is yet to come.’”
How can you not love that story? It’s touching. It’s adorable. And it reminds us that our Christian faith is forward-looking, regarding the future with hopeful anticipation. If you’re looking to pair it with a Scripture passage, a good one might be 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, where the Apostle Paul writes:
“… God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.”
Whether we are awake or asleep—whether we are living or dead—we are alive in Christ. We live with Jesus. In this world and the next, we belong to the Lord. Of course, in the world to come, Jesus will be even closer to us than he is now.
As Paul wrote elsewhere, “… now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.
Keep a tight grip on your faith. Keep hold of your relationship with the Lord.
Destruction and chaos may be all around you. There may be “wars and rumors of wars,” and disasters—natural or otherwise—may throw down everything you’ve worked for. Don’t be alarmed. Something better is coming.
The day of the Lord is coming, when all of earth’s problems and conflicts will—with justice and mercy—be finally sorted out. So keep your fork. Keep hold of your optimism, holding fast to God’s promises.
That is good advice not only for the next world, but for this one, as well. Optimism and hope, surely, lay the foundation for dynamic faith.
In chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel (vv. 14-30) Jesus tells a story of his own. It’s about a man who has three servants. He’s about to go on a long journey, and he needs them to take care of his business while he’s away. So he entrusts his property to them. Specifically, he opens up his treasury and hands over to each one of them a sizeable amount of cash: five talents, two talents, and one talent, in turn.
Now, a “talent” amounted to roughly 15 years’ worth of wages for a common labourer. At least, that’s what the note in my study Bible says.
According to the Alberta government, the average annual wage for a construction labourer in this province is about $58,644.* So even the guy with only one talent was left in charge of an impressive sum—well over three-quarters of a million dollars, in today’s money. That’s quite a pile of cash. There’s a lot of things you could do with it.
However, this last servant—the guy who was given one talent … Well, he doesn’t do anything with it. In fact, he is so worried about losing it that he digs a hole and buries it! He doesn’t even put the money in the bank.
Why? Because he doesn’t want to take any kind of risk with it, however small. That, my friends, is the very definition of pessimism.
If any of you have money invested in mutual funds, or annuities, or something like that … you expect your investments to grow over time, right? You expect the fund administrator to do something with them, don’t you?
Instead of digging a hole to hide your money, you want the person managing your funds to dig in to the market. You want that person to take a calculated risk. That is optimism. Optimism does not shun risk.
The first two servants did not shun risk. And each one of them managed to double their employer’s money. The man who was put in charge of four million dollars returned with eight million. The one who had two million came back with four million. Either the market was really hot, or their boss was gone for a very long time!
Anyway, they both got promotions—and, I think we can assume, hefty bonuses. They did well.
Why? Because they realized they’d been invited to a banquet—a banquet of possibilities. More importantly, they were not afraid to take their forks and dig in to the opportunities that lay all around them.
Living optimistically—living hopefully—requires us to be good stewards of the resources that God has entrusted to us. Living optimistically involves taking risks, sometimes. Living hopefully means stepping out of our comfort zones. Optimistic people—hopeful people, faithful people—do not shun risk.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to embrace risk, confident that—if we are doing God’s will—the Lord will bless our efforts. And the Bible promises that he will equip us to take those risks in his name. Writing to the Christians at Ephesus, the apostle Paul describes this equipment as “the whole armour of God.” Here’s what he says in the sixth chapter of Ephesians:
Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:13-17)
What an evocative and imaginative writer, Paul was! The whole armour of God. The belt of truth. The breastplate of righteousness. The shield of faith. The helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.
If Paul had described not only the soldier’s armour, but also his mess kit, he might have added, “the fork of hope.”
It is the fork of hopeful anticipation—which we grasp firmly, as we wait for dessert. But before it is that, it is the fork of hopeful diligence, with which we dig in to the meat and potatoes of Christian discipleship. You know what I mean—that hearty fare which is the diet of every servant of God.
In another letter, Paul reviews the menu, thus: “great endurance … purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God” (2 Cor. 6:4-7).
Stick a fork in any one of those dishes, and you’ll find yourself with plenty to chew on. As Eugene Peterson has put it, “Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details” (2 Cor. 6:4, The Message).
Purity? Well, that’s about minding your table manners, because the world is watching just where you stick your fork.
Knowledge? That’s about understanding why it’s important to eat all the food on your plate.
Truthful speech is the yeast which rises into a trustworthy loaf.
And as for patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, and genuine love … Along with all the other ingredients, these things complete the recipe for bearing faithful witness.
Just like working all day—and every day—in a busy restaurant, the life of discipleship requires great endurance. Because the truth is—in the here and now of this present world, we’re not only called to sit at the table; we’re also expected to cook the meal.
Yeah. That’s right. It’s like a never-ending church supper!
It’s not easy to get volunteers to work in the kitchen, is it? And the few who do show up to start the coffee perking … and heat up the oven … and put up the tables and set out the chairs … Well, they can easily wind up exhausted. Feeling discouraged, and taken for granted.
And yet, strangely, somehow these faithful few keep coming back for more—more work in the kitchen, more miles on the road, with ever-heavier loads upon their backs. I think these must be the ones whom the Bible refers to as “the elect.”
Through sheer endurance, they display the power of God. And always—always—they take care to do the best they can, the most they can, with what their Master has entrusted to them.
Maybe it’s five million dollars. Maybe it’s five loaves and two fish. But whatever it is, the faithful ones get out their forks and dig in.
Even when the journey has been arduous, even when the kitchen’s been too hot and the burden’s been too much; even when they’ve done far more than their fair share, putting their talents into service while others seem content to just sit on theirs … even then, these saints persevere.
And why? The only reason I can think of is that they know something better is coming.
Maybe it’s a heavenly banquet table where somebody else is going to serve them dessert, and pour them coffee.
But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s more “here and now” than that. I think it’s the reward that comes when they behold the gratitude of a hungry one being fed. Or when they watch the spiritual growth of Sunday School kids as they progress in maturity and in understanding. Or witness the expression of joy on the face of a lonely person who is just so, so glad to have a visitor.
You saints—you know who you are! (At least, I hope you do.)
I think you persevere because you remember Jesus saying that when you care for the least, you are caring for him. I think you do what you do because you know you are making a tremendous positive difference in someone else’s life.
You find peace in your heart by working peace in the world.
“Something better” comes to pass—before your very eyes—all because, in your hand, you grasp the fork of hope. And because when—with both your hands—you put that hope to work, it not merely doubles, or triples; it expands infinitely.
That is the economy of heaven.