Tuesday, March 4, 2014

We Just Kept On Singing

I had a funeral on Saturday, the day before Transfiguration Sunday.

That in itself is not so unusual for me.

I have had a lot of funerals in my pastoral tenure, both here and at my first parish, back in rural South Dakota.

I used to be jealous of some of my other colleagues, who could go months without a funeral.  They seemed as regular as the sun and the moon and the stars at my place.

While other colleagues were developing ministry plans, creative youth ministry opportunities, dreaming up building programs, I was doing funerals.

Looking back, that is a slight exaggeration.  I did do other things, like create a contemporary worship service, take all of the youth to New Orleans, and start a new confirmation ministry.  But, at the time, that's what it seemed like.  My colleagues were dreaming dreams and seeing visions, and I was doing funerals.  One of my colleagues tried to comfort me once by saying, "Maybe that is why God sent you here.  Maybe God sent you here to bury people and to lament and to preside at funerals."

I know that she meant well, but somehow, it did not seem comforting at the time.

So, on Saturday, the day before Transfiguration Sunday, I had a funeral.

It was a funeral for a former member of our congregation, someone I had not known at all.  I did have the privilege of getting acquainted with some of his family, but I never knew the man who had died.  He was a well-respected doctor, and had been prominent both in our community and congregation for many years.  But he had Alzheimers, and they lost him, bit by bit.

The family chose the readings and the hymns, except that they asked me to choose a gospel reading:  One of the healing stories, they said.  I chose a brief reading, from Matthew.  Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law (there's family practice for you), and the crowds gather.  The reading ends with a portion of Isaiah 53:  "Surely he has carried our infirmities."

The doctor's wife chose the hymn of the day:  "What Wondrous Love", with its last verse, "and when from death I'm free I'll sing on, I'll sing on."  And their choice for the recessional hymn was "Amazing Grace."

I remember that as I led the family in at the beginning of the service, I had walked a little too rapidly at first.  The widow and her oldest daughter were behind me, arm in arm.  I resolved to walk more slowly at the end of the service, to walk with them while we sang.

We were just to the beginning of the last verse of "Amazing Grace" when we reached the sanctuary doors.

There is something that always happens when we reach the doors to the sanctuary and step out into the narthex.  The singing usually stops as soon as we take that first step.  Sometimes, if I'm confident, I'll keep going.

But this time, that didn't happen.  The singing didn't stop.  I kept singing, and the doctor's wife looked at me and kept singing, and her oldest daughter looked at both of us, and we all kept singing.  Some of the other people kept singing, too.

"When we've been there ten thousand years
bright shining as the sun
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun."

We just kept singing.

On the day before Transfiguration Sunday.

You never know when you will be standing on a mountaintop, and suddenly, Jesus' face will shine.

You never know when the curtain will be lifted and you will dream a dream or see a vision.

Perhaps God has sent me here to do funerals.

1 comment:

LoieJ said...

VEry evocative. I can just picture and feel the whole thing, as you describe it. I'm sending you a link to a blog post about Amazing Grace and a death, of my mother in law, just 15 days ago.