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. 


The blessing of being nonessential

It’s taken a while, but one pastoral task I seem to be getting better at is “preparing God’s people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12). I realized this tonight as we were practicing music for Easter tonight. I’ve got three other guys playing trumpet with me. And they are good. I can remember the first times I got to play for worship. It is such a great feeling to know that God can use you to lead people in worshiping him.  It was a stepping stone for me on my way to the pastoral ministry. I am so thankful that I can give other musicians that experience!

Either I’m getting better at letting go of things, or God is motivating more people. Or a combination of both. There have been times when it seemed like I had to do a little of everything. Now other people are taking responsibility and stepping up to the plate, and that’s a blessing for both me and them. One  of my goals is that if for some reason I wasn’t here, it would be business as usual. Thank you Lord for letting me be, in many ways, nonessential!

Do you understand?

I cleaned my trumpet today. As I think about writing that last sentence, I realize that any non-brass playing person probably has no idea what I’m talking about. They’re thinking, “Why would you clean a trumpet?” Trumpet-muggles probably have no idea that a trumpet has numerous slides and valves that all come apart so that you can clean the tarnish off the brass and keep everything in top working order. When everything moves and slides effortlessly, it is so much nicer to play the horn.

Now to get some mileage out of this metaphor. As a pastor, I probably say a number of things that puzzle many people who listen to me preach, teach, or counsel. My education was so good that theological talk comes very easily and is very useful around other clergy. But not around the people I’ve been called to shepherd. Sermon preparation involves going back and cleaning up all the theological jargon and making it understandable to a normal person. (Not that I’m that abnormal.) Even after all these years, I can go into any sermon and find phrases that need to be translated into something people can understand. At least if you want them to understand anything you’re talking about. Words like “faith,” “Bible study,” “repent,” and “mercy” probably go way over the heads of many listeners. I’ll bet some people have listened to me and wished they had a translator. Not all the time – but I am sure I have my moments.

Jazz 91.1

I’ve got some new music to listen to while I’m working at the computer. It’s the live feed at http://www.jazz.fm, Jazz 91.1 from Toronto, Canada. All jazz music, all the time, an amazing variety of music and musicians, instrumentalists, bands, and vocalists. A few things I’ve heard before, but a lot I haven’t. As soon as I turn it on, it creates a very relaxing mood wherever I am. I even have the app on my iPhone.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been somewhere that had an actual jazz station to listen to. A long, long time ago, there was one in Philadelphia. There used to be a smooth jazz station in Jacksonville, FL, but they changed format to Latin music. So these sounds are very welcome when I find myself parked at the computer, working on sermons or letters or whatever.

It’s got me playing my trumpet more, too, especially some jazz etudes I’ve collected over the years. It would be nice to have some kind of band to play with, but for now, practicing on my own with some occasional background tracks has been a good way to clear my mind and stimulate some different parts of my brain.