Thursday, September 06, 2007

About a Funeral

When I did a seminary internship at Southland Christian Church, one experience I had was going to a funeral. I knew the husband of the deceased - he sang in the bass section of the choir with me, but I did not know the deceased. I wasn't a part of the service - I came to offer support to Steve and to witness the funeral itself (as part of the internship). I cried through the whole thing and ended up with a splitting headache. I didn't have any idea what to say to Steve, so I hugged him, and that seemed to be the right thing to "say."

After the funeral, in my meeting with my "mentor" at the church, I asked, "How does a minister do this?" It was absolutely draining to me, and I wanted to know how someone could do it day in and day out. He never did answer me on that.

When I was at Stonybrook, I asked someone. We were fortunate enough to have Eldon S on staff as a part-part-time visitation pastor, but his "day job" was at a funeral home, where he was a funeral director. I asked him how he did it, and his answer was something like this:

It's a joy to be there at that time, because it's when mortality comes closest to immortality. Our lives brush up against eternity at that moment. It's also the time when the loved ones are most open to ministry.

That has stuck with me, and I've found that, while funerals still exhaust me, I appreciate being a part of when morality meets immortality. It's not that I "enjoy" it, but I find joy in bringing words of comfort to the family and loved ones - words like Psalm 23 (yes, that is the KJV). Words like Psalm 84. Words like John 14:1-6.

I find joy in weaving the scripture through the story of the deceased, finding places where they overlap, where the life of the deceased points to the scriptures. Yesterday's funeral was for someone who always loved going places. It didn't seem like it mattered where he was going - his joy was the journey. I was able to articulate that now he's on the ultimate journey - the one that he was made for - the one he had longed for all his life. And I think the family appreciated what I had to say.

So this is how I get through funerals.

1 comment:

The Sister said...

I read this on the website of a friend from high school who's been diagnosed with Von Hippel- Lindau Syndrome, which causes brain tumors (as well as other tumors), and which is what her mother died of:
"It's perfectly naturally for our bodies to break down--why automatically regard it as a tragedy? If we believe in a culture of life, why assume the boundaries of science are finite and that our fellow humans can fix everything that goes wrong? How does this respect the human body’s unimaginable complexity?"
It moved me. Greatly.