Last Saturday, I did two memorial services, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The services were similar, yet very different. Seven people attended the first service, including the organist and myself. More than two hundred attended the second, including the organist and myself, the choir, a soloist, an honor guard, plus a bagpiper and drummer.
I don’t often have a doubleheader, but I had been traveling our of the country for the last few weeks (as my readers know), and the families were waiting for my return.
I knew everyone who gathered for the first service in our chapel, including the widow, her elder, her sister, her sister’s husband and a family friend. After my sermon, I had a chance to ask them to share a memory, a story, or a quote and everyone did. It was a moment that produced more laughs than tears, speaking powerfully of the family’s love and closeness. I love it when God’s Word does exactly what it say it will, and turns our mourning into joy.
I did not know most of the people who attended the second service in the main sanctuary. The family began arriving ninety minutes before worship began. There were flowers to arrange, pictures to display, details to go over, more copies of the worship folder to make, sound checks, food to prepare, and seats to be reserved. After my sermon, the son of the deceased shared some wonderful memories which also made us simultaneously laugh and cry. More memories were later shared at a meal served in our fellowship hall.
From my preacher’s point of view, these were two very different experiences. Of course I enjoy a church full of people, but sometimes it’s easier to connect with a smaller crowd in a smaller space. With a smaller group you get immediate feedback. After speaking to a larger group, responses tend to come later. A big attendance tends to make me feel important (not good). Smaller numbers remind me they are important.
Jesus spent some afternoons with thousands of people. Other nights with just one. John’s visions of heaven in Revelation include multitudes no one can count. I’m looking forward to being a part of that crowd. He is certainly worthy of such honor and praise.
Early in the morning, though, it feels like just Jesus and me. I don’t deserve that kind of attention. But I always look forward to that private audience, too.