Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[
During nearly a decade at St. Paul's I have presided at many funerals and memorial services. Some have been tiny. Several have packed the church or chapel. In certain instances the tension between family members has been palpable, while in others the same could be said for the love. Unfortunately some of the deceased have been despised by those left behind. Others left such an indelibly positive mark on loved ones that the survivors wonder how they will be able to carry on without them. Such is life.
This week I presided at two services, one for a woman who died at age 81 after years living with chronic illness of every kind, including Alzheimer's. Fortunately she continued to know her family and her sense of humour was intact. The service was in a funeral chapel with a modest group on hand. I had met Gladys but didn't know her. Still, I was aware of how much she was loved and influenced her family and friends and the two tributes were lovely.
The second service is today and it will be a St. Paul's funeral because Bill, aged 80, was a church guy. I had many conversations with Bill and he was what used to be called a gentleman, a term which seems to have disappeared from our vocabulary. He looked dignified and he acted with dignity and integrity. Over the years he developed a strong sense of community responsibility, and a conviction that if you have been blessed you should bless others. He too loved his family immensely and was devoted to his wife, who has Alzheimer's,
Is conducting two services in a couple of days a strain? Oh ya, especially with everything else on my plate this hectic week. Yet in these two very different circumstances I feel invited onto holy ground. There are times when doing funerals can be frustrating because in our secular society those left behind don't seem to have a clue in the leave-taking from loved ones. Not so with these two. To read scripture and speak of our Christian hope in the face of death is a privilege in situations like these. To offer my thoughts about the departed, and to listen to others do the same is an important part of life, even though we are in the midst of death. To declare that God is present in the emptiness is vital. It doesn't remove the sting of death, but it can be part of the healing.
I'm not sure what comments to invite, but I would like to hear your thoughts about funerals and leave-taking and all that stuff.