Today I officiated at the funeral of a long-past member whom I have never met.
He grew up in the church and had moved from Mpls years ago. It was important to his family to have the celebration of his life in his home territory, so they called to see if Richfield would host.
Of course. That’s what we do.
It’s always a bit of a sniffing-out session when folks who are not members come into the church with a sense of what they want. As the planning session went on, I was thinking of preacher and theologian Thomas Long’s discussion of funerals and how they have changed in the minds of many.
Often, Long observed (and I agree), funerals have become pep rallies for the deceased with precious little nod to the mystery and vulnerability that is life and death and resurrection and grief.
I liked this man’s family. I liked what I heard about this man.
And, I was jangled a bit even before the service. We had agreed that maybe “Me and Bobby McGee” would best be shared in the fellowship hall following the worship service. That was good.
We had agreed that three eulogists would speak and they would be aware of the great good of being concise in their comments.
And, as in so much that is life, I had to let go during the service and trust that many unknowns would conspire to honor a life and give thanks to God for it.
But I had to wrestle with white-hot anger during the course of one of the eulogies. The man speaking used language that hurt in that sacred space. He told a joke that jarred in the air that has held so many prayers. I was torn between wanting to be gracious and wanting to welcome lighting bolts from the sky.
Here’s the thing. I like to have fun as much as the next person. I don’t believe that God despises laughter and I do believe that being able to celebrate the life of a beloved through anecdotes that provoke laughter is soul gift.
And, we gather in sanctuaries for services of life, death, and resurrection for a purpose.
We gather to bring our bruised and confused hearts before God and to offer them up for holding. Eulogies are a chance to express our wonder about the gift of the deceased. Stand-up comedy has its place. So too does humility.
Trembling before God is a spiritual practice that requires reverence.
Reverence matters, especially when the mystery that is life and death and resurrection is before us.
There is a powerful healing that happens when we step off the stage and acknowledge that all that we are and all that we live is directed by grace.
Reverence and wonder were missing today and life goes on and the family was pleased by oh, I missed the chance to worship.
I think that’s a good thing.