A week ago on Monday afternoon I was here for the memorial service of one of my parish members. That's probably not an unusual thing for a pastor to say. I've held a lot of funerals through the years. But, until recently, i have not had many in this little congregation.
I remember meeting with the family the Thursday before. She wanted to have two hours visitation starting at 12:00. The service would be at 2:00 p.m. They chose two hymns; I urged them to include one more. They had two friends as eulogists as well. The man's wife and children spoke so warmly of their husband and father, memories of family events and things that he had done in the communities where they lived, including (I remember) that he liked to read to the children at Head Start. And I remember that she was concerned that our church would be large enough. They had heard from many people who planned to attend. We had extra chairs ready for the narthex and the balcony, just in case we would need them.
As it turned out, we did need them. This little church of ours was packed that Monday afternoon. I have never really seen anything like it before. I have been to a few other large funerals, but it felt like people just kept coming, squeezing into every nook and cranny, singing "Beautiful Savior" at the top of our lungs. I did not see this, but i was told that there was a line of cars stretching down the highway waiting to get into our small parking lot.
It is not very often that you get a glimpse of the impact that one life can have. One ordinary life. This man, though beloved, was not in any way famous. He did not have an especially large family. He was active in his church and he was active in his community. There was something humbling about trying to squeeze all of those people into our little building that day. It felt like God was shouting at us to have faith -- that though we are small, God is mighty. Just look around. Look at all of the people. Look at how God works in the world.
That is how I felt that day.
Inevitably, though, I thought back. It was early December, the beginning of Advent. I was preparing for a funeral that day too. We had gotten word that an elderly member of our congregation had died on Thanksgiving Day. Her daughter called and asked if we could have a small memorial service in our church. Of course we could. This woman had been a faithful member of our congregation for many years. I remembered where she always sat, every single week. I remember that she wore a sweater, even when it was hot. I remember how her son started bringing her to church, when she became ill. During the last several months, people asked after her when she was not able to come to church.
On that day in early December, there were not many people in the church. A few family members, a few faithful members of my congregation, who had looked out for her. My heart warmed to see them. One woman who came expressed dismay at the small group of people gathered. She was as shocked to see this small group of worshipers as we were shocked to see the great crowds last week.
I don't remember much about the funeral, except that her granddaughter gave a lovely solo. I remembered a particular sermon I had given, when I asked members of the congregation to share their favorite Bible verses, and this quiet unassuming woman had raised her voice and quoted Isaiah 59:1, "The arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor is his ear too deaf to hear." Her family shared stories of her love and faith and strength.
And it was no less true that day in December -- though we are small, God is mighty. Look around.
This is how God works in the world.