Talking to myself (again)

mariam-soliman-267316

Photo by Mariam Soliman on Unsplash

Ten minutes before the memorial service began today, someone came over and said, “We’re not going to fit.”

We had everything set up and ready to go in our chapel, which seats about fifth comfortably. It was obvious we were going to exceed that. “Ok,” I said, “Everyone grab something.” Every able pair of hands grabbed flower arrangements, candles, pictures, the urn, a TV and computer for the slide show, plus my bible. The organist quickly ended the piece she was on and we were on our way to the main sanctuary. With grace and aplomb, we got everything set and ready to go just a few minutes after our scheduled start time.

When someone asks, “So how did the funeral go?” it’s hard to give an objective answer. After all, it is a funeral. But it went well, with a wide variety of people there to support and encourage the bereaved family, great Advent songs, and courageous thoughts shared by family members.

I almost always keep my composure, but today was an exception. Nine minutes and 45 seconds into my ten minute message, I mentioned a few images of the promised new heavens and new earth, and said,

If God has something like that in store for us, we can confidently commend our dear ones into his care. And he will give us the faith to get there ourselves.

But then for a few seconds, which seemed like a whole minute, I paused as emotion swelled up in my throat and moisture began to cloud my vision. I had to take a few deep breaths before continuing,

Death is wrong. It’s not the end of the trail. Jesus was right. Nothing is going to separate us from his love.

It’s not like I was hearing those words for the first time. I wrote them. But in that moment, I realized that there would be times that I would have to commend those I love into his care, and I would have to hold on tightly to his promises. For a few seconds, it was like I was speaking to myself. Or maybe even more accurately, God was speaking to me.

That’s pretty good motivation to preach the word. You get to hear it, too!

 

 

 

 

 

“We won’t be needing you after all.”

Why did I say, “Yes?” I suppose I was in a benevolent mood when a local funeral director called and asked if I could do a funeral service at their place on Wednesday morning. I like to serve the community in this way from time to time, so I agreed and waited to hear more details.

Details followed later in the afternoon, contact information for the family of the deceased. I called and set up an appointment to come to their home Tuesday afternoon, so I could prepare for the service.

5e02fe5e64709598de32c69ded19e375--brick-pavers-brick-driveways

No this is not the house, but isn’t that a nice driveway?

When I got to the entrance gate, the guard had my name and pass ready and I drove through the exclusive neighborhood in our area. My GPS successfully guided me to a vast, beautiful home on the water on a quiet and upscale cup-de-sac. As I pulled into the brick-paved circular driveway, the blinds were closed tightly to the afternoon sun. I walked up and rang the doorbell.

After a few breaths, I rang the doorbell again. I listened for sounds of activity within. Silence. The lawn guy’s mower across the street was the only sound I heard. I glanced at my watch. I was about five minutes early. No problem. I’ll wait a few minutes. I am sure they are on their way.

A few minutes after the hour, I walked back to the front door and rang the bell a third time. While waiting, I dialed the number the funeral director had emailed to me. A voice answered and I told them I was at the front door, but no one seemed to be there. After a short awkward silence, an accented voice called a name, and another person came to the phone.

“Oh, my brother is going to do the service. The funeral home said they would call you.”

“OK, thank you. I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers.”

As I drove away, I glanced at my recent calls and voice messages. Nothing from the funeral home. I texted my office assistant to see if anyone had called. Not when she was there. I check the church’s voice mail. Nada.

So I called the funeral home and the director answered. “I just wanted to confirm that someone else is doing the service tomorrow.”

The director responded, “I’m not sure what you mean. We are still planning on you being here.” I explained my experience and conversation, and he assured me he would check things out. A few minutes later he called me back. “Yes, the family made other arrangements, but didn’t inform us. Thank you for letting us know.”

After all of that, I have to admit I’m glad they have to deal with the family. Clearly they are dealing with a lot right now, and need our prayers. I texted my assistant, “I think God knew I was already too busy this week.”

I went to a funeral.

shutterstock_722607682I went to a funeral yesterday. As I sat there before the service began, I realized that I’ve been to very few funerals that I haven’t conducted. The person who had died was the father of a member. I had met him a few times, but didn’t know him very well. I was there mostly to support the family.

The service was held in an Episcopal church. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an Episcopal church before, either. As expected much of the liturgy was familiar and reverent, the ministers did a good job, the family participated in a meaningful way.

But when it was all over, I thought to myself, “I wish it were Easter.” Why? Because if it were Easter, I would have heard an account of Jesus’ resurrection! The homily did contain a passing reference to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but nothing more. The well-intended meditation focused on the ever-present love of God even in the face of death, but lacked the impact of the resurrection. Yes, the deceased will live on in our memories and in the presence of God, but no reference to that last day when Christ will come, the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised.

Though I wasn’t exactly grieving, I know that this was a tough day for the family. I don’t believe most of them had yet experienced the loss of someone that close to them, who was such an integral part of their lives.

I made up my mind right there and then that I would either read or include in any funeral or memorial sermon the account of Jesus’ resurrection from one of the gospels. If I’m doing your service, your friends and family are going to hear about the rolled away stone, an empty tomb, and angels telling you, “He’s not here, he is risen!” I cannot type, read or speak those words without feeling rush of emotion. A casket or an urn or even just a picture of the deceased may be on display before the altar. Death may have come quickly or over a long period of time. You may have had a chance to say good-bye. Or not. But you can be 100% sure that you will hear me say that the urn, coffin, vault, or grave can only hold your loved one for so long. When Jesus comes, the best trumpet I’ve ever heard (and I listen to a lot of trumpet players!) will be followed by the sounds and sights of urns, coffins, vaults and graves surrendering their dead as “the resurrection of the body” becomes a reality.

I am doing a memorial service next Saturday for a long-time member of our church. I am so looking forward to this. They are letting me pick the songs and readings. We’re going to send our friend and brother off with joy, hope and expectation!

Spoiler alert: at my funeral, you’re going to hear a Gospel Easter account (you pick one), Psalm 16, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Hymns: My Hope is Built on Nothing Less, Crown Him with Many Crowns, In Thee is Gladness, and For All the Saints. Hire a trumpet player. There you go.  Funeral planning done. I suggest you do the same. 

 

When traditions begin to vanish

I went to the viewing of a friend’s father last night at a local funeral home. When I arrived, the staff showed me into the room for the visitation, a room that was virtually empty. Just a son and a granddaughter. I wasn’t early. In fact, I deliberately came a little bit later.

jerk 2As I sat and visited with them, a few others arrived and I suddenly found myself immersed in Jamaican culture. The conversation was filled with references to jerk seasoning, where to get the best jerk seasoning, plantains, rum, reggae music, Rasta, and cities and towns in Jamaica. As I listened and learned, it seemed like there was a running competition among them about who was still the most “Jamaican” among those who had lived in New York and now in Palm Coast for twenty or thirty years or more. Continue reading

See all the people

bigstock_Funeral_Casket_57422001

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Legrand Malany

Legrand Malany died last Friday, and I did his memorial service today for a packed house at Lohman Palm Coast Funeral Home (read 70+ people).  Quite a tribute to the man.  I had only met him a few times, but knew his wife of 70 years, Marian, very well.  What a privilege to meet his four children, along with lots of other relatives and friends.  The best part is just knowing someone named Legrand.  Awesome name.

I’ve noticed that writing funeral messages comes easier than I remember in the past.  With some biographical information and scripture, they just flow.  Practice and experience help, of course.  Most important:  keep it simple.

All of Legrand’s children spoke.  A tough assignment, but they did a great job.  Just enough to share their hearts and lift our spirits.

I haven’t minded doing funerals and memorials lately.  I like to be the one who mentions Jesus.