That season Again…. (Lent)

I stumbled upon an article I wrote for the  Covenant Companion, in February 2010.  It felt oh so current as I reread it this week.  It was spot-on for Lent: heavy with themes of death and resurrection, and as is always true, the scriptures spoke deeply then and speak deeply today.  It’s Paul saying: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  So here I go again.

I have officiated or participated in 5 funerals in the past 10 weeks.  You do the math.

One was a father of the church in his 90’s, another was a mother of the church who almost reached her  90’s, both of them well known and much beloved.   One was a woman I only recently meet, but longed to know better, she too, in her 90’s, but had only been attending a few years.  One was a man who I had never met, but he had connections to the church from his childhood.   He lived with cognitive disabilities all his life. His was a very solitary existence as dementia further eroded his limited capacities.  The latest funeral was for a friend, a mother of a young child, he 12, she just 40.  We were the birthplace of her faith, this was her spiritual home.  Her husband wanted her to be honored here.  She had lived with the debilitating physical assaults of MD:  the symptoms first becoming evident as a teenager in our youth group.  But more importantly, she possessed  deep, enduring  spiritual faith and  the tenacity to allow her countless talents and personal skills to flourish.  Her influence was deep and wide.  Her service taxed every seat in the house, demanded that we open all the sanctuary doors so the overflow crowd in the narthex could participate. 

 

Four of these five services involved the whole church family.  The kitchen crew,  who should really be known as the Hospitality Ministry, do the hard work.  They cook and clean and prepare and serve, and then clean again.  As they do this, I know they pray that the peace and comfort of Christ will be poured out in coffee cups and eaten in the bars they cut and serve.  Inevitably, someone I don’t know seeks me out in the church basement, and over the muted conversations around various tables they thank me for what we all have done. In their own words they say something like how they sense a certain feel, or  atmosphere that pervades the church, both in the Service that happens upstairs, and the service that happens downstairs.  I know what they are feeling, I know what they are trying to describe.  They are noticing that they are surrounded by the love of Christ which is so powerfully  present in the face of grief. They are being ministered to, whether they know it or not, far beyond what a message or a simple refreshment can do.  They are being ministered to by the Holy Spirit.  Some can name that, some can’t. 

 As I said in my article many years ago: I know that holding funerals is NOT a church-growth strategy: but it surely is a faith-growth strategy.  The Apostle Paul wrote this: We always carry around in our body the  death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  2 Cor.  4:10  

That’s the thing.  What our guests are trying to say I believe,  is that even in the face of painful and sometimes tragic loss, they feel, they experience,  the reality of the living Jesus revealed  in our midst.  Because we do.  We experience the life of Jesus revealed in our body. Upstairs, we remember the loved ones we have lost as we sing again their favorite hymn or hear their favorite scripture.  We remember them downstairs as we anticipate a cup that needs refilling, or as we make new connections in the sharing of simple food.  In this season we can’t help and wonder about our own deaths as we receive cross-shaped ashes on our foreheads.  We proclaim the victory of the cross, and the certain hope of the resurrection in word from the pulpit and in deed as we ready the food, or shovel the driveways, or set up and take down tables and chairs. After one of the services, which happened to coincide with one of our many snowstorms in February I watched as Tom and Mark went outside once more to shovel the walks.  They had already shoveled several times  because  the snow was piling up so fast.  We had to delay the start of the service because a family member just couldn’t make it through the storm.  “Thanks, Tom”, I said, and he simply replied,  “Well, you’ve got to do it for Arnie.”  How true.  We do it for love of who they were.  We do it with confidence in the mystery of who they have now become.  We do it because God breathes life back into our lungs, and we don’t have the luxury of taking that for granted.  We always carry the reality of death around, and this somehow feeds our desire for Christ’s life to be  present and active.  As we move through the season of Lent this year, dear family, may it stir in us the powerful longing for life!  Full, abundant, fruitful life.