We have had a lot of funerals at church in the past eighteen months. We've had three since Easter, with one more coming soon. So many of our dear saints who lived full, active lives into their 80s and 90s have left us, and it has left a hole.
I am in charge of the funeral dinners at church, but I have always gone to the funerals anyway. In our earlier years at Redeemer, I went to most of them because I was taking sons to acolyte and it didn't make sense to drive back home. Over time, as I got to know the people, I just wanted to be there.
At the last couple of funerals, as I looked around the sanctuary and noticed how few congregation members were there, I started thinking about the place of funerals. (This has been part of a much broader musing on relationships within the church, the whole idea of a church family, etc., that will be making appearances here and in my presentation at the Family Retreat this summer, but I digress.)
I've been thinking about why people don't go and why I wish they would.
Funerals are never convenient. Believe me, the pastors and church secretary know this. People are busy and don't want to take time out of a Monday morning or Saturday afternoon to go to a funeral. Moms don't want to bring their kids, or aren't sure they belong. People say that they didn't really know the deceased. Because we fight so hard to avoid thinking about death, we are really uncomfortable with those who are dealing with it up close and personal.
But death is real. Avoiding thinking about it doesn't make it go away, and I think there is a lot of value in pausing to acknowledge it. My job forces me to: Putting together the funeral bulletin. Marking someone as "Removed by Death" in the software. Putting together their obituary for the bulletin. Each of these takes precedent over other more routine tasks, because death comes when it comes, no matter how busy we all are with our lives.
And so do funerals. And you should go, if you can. There are so many good reasons that it's hard to know where to start.
First, if your pastor is doing his job, you're going to get the good stuff at a funeral. The real stuff. The life-giving Gospel. If you come to a funeral at Redeemer, you are going to hear sermons that are among the pastors' best.
You will sing hymns and responses. I admit to a selfish thought here. This will mean that there are more people singing. The acolytes, Pastors, and I sometimes are reminiscent of a very small and thinly-spread choir. But singing hymns together, feeling the tears as you sing "I KNOW THAT MY REDEEMER LIVES," this is a good thing. And it's a witness to the families who are all too often not church people that this is real, and important, and not just to blue-haired old ladies, but to middle-aged men, and moms, and kids, too.
It means a huge amount to people to have their loss acknowledged. Huge.
It is good for your kids. My tears at the last funeral were brought on by thinking about what an incredible gift acolyting at funerals has been to my sons. They know death is real. Over the last 13 years, they've acolyted for the funerals of the elderly and the young. They've acolyted for those they've barely known and for those they've loved. They've learned to control their emotions while they serve. They have spent extra time with Pastor on the way too and from funerals. They've gotten to know and serve our members in another way. And they've heard all those devil-kicking sermons.
And people have loved having them there. I have received so many words of appreciation for their presence. Being there for each other is an important part of this church family thing. Really. Even for the people who only come to Sunday services. They appreciate the presence of their church family at the time of death. I know this because they tell me.
Death isn't something to hide from our children. How much better that they get used to the idea and practice saying goodbye to the elderly lady that always sat in the back pew, or the man with the hair growing out of his ears, so that grandma's funeral isn't their first? How wonderful it is to hear their young voices joining in the prayers and the singing, because they are part of the church family.
As I said, this is part of some larger thoughts that will be showing up over the next couple of months. I know there was a post shared by some of my friends last week that had to do with funerals that I didn't read because I didn't want to get my thoughts muddled before I had a chance to write this, so I think I'll seek that out now.