The Weather Report

 

Writer Zora Neale Hurston’s characters have a knack for summing up a given situation. Take Sister Clarke. She expresses her concern for Sister Lucy and her recent trials and tribulations.  Though appreciative of the thought, Sister Lucy deflects any pity.  “Don’t worry ‘bout me,” she begins. “Ah done been in sorrow’s kitchen and Ah done licked out all de pots.”  
I have been in sorrow’s kitchen lately, though not my own. I have not licked out any pots, though I have seen up close some real hurt. A rash of funerals and some very sick folk have kept me attuned to the grief of others. Pastoral care in human crisis exacts a price from the observer. Despite the risk, human crises are windows of opportunity for authentic exchange. I consider such ground holy.
This summer I conducted seven funerals. Most will concur that death is the single most important event in family life. The congregation gathers to mark the end of an individual life all the while the bereaved family stands on the cusp of a beginning. More estrangement and more reconciliation are said to be accomplished during this passage than at any other time in the life of a family. At the time of death one gets busy making amends or cutting ties that bind the family.   
The aftershock from death ripples far. This is evident in its influence on other life-cycle events in the family. A funeral coming before a wedding can go a long way toward influencing the tone of the latter event. Conspicuous to all is the individual who does not attend. A birth or baptism coming before a funeral seldom has the same influence. At a funeral one can rest assured that this is the only particular time that this group of people will ever gather. As the songwriter suggests, “We may never pass this way again.”
This alone makes the actions and convictions of the church at the time of death meaningful. A review of the history of the church will not reveal an ideal pattern for Christian funerals. Christians have gathered in silence at the grave and paraded from the cemetery with a brass band blaring. But this much is clear to me. The Christian funeral is something larger than a “celebration of life.”  The Christian funeral is certainly personal. We gather because a brother or sister in Christ has died. The funeral reflects that life. But as a friend so accurately points out, there is a second, much larger story. It is the story made possible by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The funerals conducted here at Immanuel this summer were both unique and alike. They were made unique by the individual life we remembered. As the poet says, “One of the regrettable things about death is the ceasing of your brand of magic.” At the same time the seven funerals shared a striking resemblance. There was a bit of theater. The church gathered to act out what the story of a particular death means in light of the Easter story. That as God said “yes” to Jesus on the first day of the week so God now says “yes” to our deceased brother or sister. This “yes” was inaugurated at the deceased’s baptism and is now fulfilled in the resurrection to come.
Looking ahead to Sunday I am buoyed to see the dedication of Melissa Rose Clouse is in our worship. I will carry her into the church as gently as we carried Bill, Ruth, Mildred, Eleanor, Josephine, Willodene, and Grace out of the church into the eternal arms of God the maker of heaven and earth. —Steven