â€œA day in the lifeâ€¦.â€
It's not often I go to a conference and see this posted: â€œNon-Morticians sign up here.â€ Pastors and funeral home directors gathered Wednesday to discuss what makes a â€œgoodâ€ funeral. Being a pastor and worship geek, I could not pass this up, an offering provided free of charge by the good folks at House of Hope Presbyterian Church.
Pastors often say they prefer funerals to weddings. One reason is funerals are unrehearsed, raw. Using language of lament and hope, we address what none of us will avoid, death and its grief.
Thomas Long and Thomas Lynch reminded their listeners: ours is the first generation (begun some 50 years ago) in the entire expanse of the human story, where everyone is welcome to the funeral except the one who died. There is an increasing separation between the mourners and the departed, between hands-on engagement with the rituals of preparing the body and its burial, as we let professionals tend those details. We give away what matters most.
Funerals, now often renamed â€œcelebrations of lifeâ€, move quickly from lament and grief to the party. I am not against celebrating, but we give away the essentials of pondering the human journey from birth to death, the â€œwhither and whenceâ€, the grief and disruption of death.
What I love about parish ministry is this: we cannot avoid being embodied in holy, blessed, sometimes infuriating, human messiness. When we gather to worship, we bring our bodies that house our stories. We bump into each other, sometimes those we might not choose, but there they are. And with a death we continue to carry the weight and share the burden of the beloved community. We mourn someone of our fold, imperfect and lovely, loved and forgiven. We bring food, send cards, tell stories of the departed, cover the casket with the pall, show up at the service, walk alongside the family to the graveside or columbarium, and then continue to show up with the grieving long after the time of death.
This is a time of change in the church â€“ things are in flux, the institution is being torn down, and being reformed. We donâ€™t know what it will look like into the future. We are in an experimenting time. What I know for sure is we will continue to be an incarnational people (church), showing up with all our humanness, our need for ritual and caring acts, as we tend together the living and dying. And at its heart is the very incarnational One who comes close â€“ into our living and our dying.