Friday, August 31, 2012

Stranger at the Funeral

There was a funeral this summer where I felt strangely out of place.

This is a sort of unusual situation for me.  Usually I am in charge of the funeral, and it's in my church.  Even when I have a funeral at one of the local funeral homes, there's a sort of familiar feeling to it.

This funeral was in the evening, which is sort of rare for me, but I don't think that's what accounted for my feeling strange.  It was at one of the local funeral homes, too, but I don't think that's what did it, either.  I was still the officiating clergy, so it wasn't strange in that way.

I was pastor to the mother of the man who had died.  She was a regular at our small Saturday evening chapel service.  She was a tiny woman whose husband dropped her off every week.  She sat in the back with her bright eyes and her oxygen tank.  When she died, I had the funeral.

So her son called me when he received a devastating diagnosis.  I went to visit him a few times in the hospital, in the nursing home.  We prayed, and had communion, and shared.  He hadn't been much of a church-attender as an adult, but the ministry of the church meant something to him now, and I was glad to be with him.

So there I was, at the funeral home, visiting with people while hard rock music blared in the background.  Right before the service started, they shut off the recordings.  There was no music during the service.

I had my greeting and my opening prayer from the service book I use, and I had prepared some scripture readings and a message.  After the opening prayer, the girlfriend and the best friend of the man who died were going to speak.

It was during the best friend's long remarks that I suddenly felt like a stranger.  The friend spoke at length and eloquently about the man, who I had only known for a few weeks.  What I remember is thinking, here I am, sitting here in my prim suit and clerical collar, while this man is talking about how much his friend enjoyed girls, beer and rock music.

There was this time a number of years ago that my husband and I went to a tattoo convention, because our son's band was playing there.  Amid the heavy smoke and tattoos and sort-of motorcycle culture, I had the distinct feeling that I was outside my mileau.

That's how I felt.  I wondered how my words about Jesus and eternal life would sound to the people gathered there.  My craft has been honed inside the confines of a church, with all of its churchi-ness, after all.  I felt like a stranger, with a strange message about grace, and hoped the people would forgive my prim presence, and that the Holy Spirit would bless my words, anyway, and hear the wild promises of grace and life set free.

Thinking back, though, it seemed right that I should be there, even though my presence felt strange, even alien.  Didn't Jesus spend more time eating and drinking with the tax collectors and sinners, and healing the lepers, than he spent in the synagogue?  That's where people need to hear about grace, and forgiveness and life, and all of those alien things.  Maybe if we showed them out on the streets, more people would show up in church on Sunday too.  Maybe.

So, I'm going to own that I'm a stranger, an alien presence, whether I'm in my collar or not.  I'm a representative of a strange and gracious God here.  As in church, the message of the gospel of God's love is wilder than we can ever imagine.  And stranger.


Crimson Rambler said...

I have a funeral tomorrow morning for a man I never met...and I've only met the members of his family twice...but when we gathered on Wednesday to fine-tune the service leaflet, and drink tea, and eat ginger snaps, I invited his widow to call me next week when everyone's gone home and the service is behind us and she's all at loose ends -- and she looked at me and said, "You know, I think we just might become friends." May you find friends among strangers too.

Elaine Dent said...

Great post. Thank you.

Lauralew said...

Someone who once meant the world to me died a month ago. I have no idea how his service went, but I have a feeling his best friend's talk would have been similar to the talk this man's best friend gave, as my friend frankly was a hedonist. Wonder if the officiant, upon reflection, felt as you did. I hope so.

Ann said...

When I was a priest in Jackson WY- some people asked me to do a service at bar for their friend. They were all in AA now but he had never been able to stay sober and ran his bike off the mountain. They sang and talked of their friend - I said some prayers - I felt like I was doing what Jesus wanted us to do -- go out among the people where you find them.