I did a funeral service today for the brother of a dear member. I had visited, talked and prayed with him a number of times over the past six months as his cancer progressed and his family took care of him. During one visit, he asked me to do his funeral service, and I was glad to say yes.
After the worship service at the church, I chose to drive myself to the cemetery, following the hearse on a slow but steady eight mile ride through town. During that ride, I found myself marveling at all the people involved in making this day happen. I believe I was initially impressed with the six citizen patrol cars that escorted us through the various intersection of town. Zooming ahead, then lagging behind, we didn’t have to brake once.
“We” included the funeral director and staff. They arrived two hours early, set up the viewing in the chapel, arranged the flowers, welcomed and directed guests, and paid special attention to the family. They reverently moved the casket in and out, covering and uncovering it with the pall, drove the cars, and had the cemetery ready just when we arrived. Each one was professional, compassionate, efficient and a pleasure to talk and work with.
Meanwhile, back at the church, the organist had prepared music for the service, a dozen or more members prepared and set up a meal, the custodian had everything in order, elders were on duty, and even the office manager stepped in to sit with the family.
I had met with the family, helped them choose some hymns and scripture readings, put the service together and preached. I did my part, but it was only a slice of the day’s agenda.
What a difference a community of faith makes on a day like today! I suppose all of this could have taken place in non-faith context. But would it? Would we put that much effort into this event without the love of Christ and the hope of resurrection? Would people who didn’t know the deceased come just to be with someone in the family? (We had two dozen from our church, none of whom had met the man who died.) Perhaps. But I don’t believe it would be the same. As dearly loved children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, our family is much bigger than we realize.
Until we get together to mourn or celebrate, to cry or laugh, to welcome or say goodbye, to both live and die. And how good it is to be able to do it together.