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Archive for January, 2011

Reflections on a Funeral

On Friday last, my grandmother, Lola Thompson, departed this life. I was able to travel back home to Kansas to be there for the funeral. I’m grateful it was possible for me to do so. It was, if one may say it, a soul-enriching occasion.

I was not able, I am sad to say, to spend much time with Grandma so as to pray. I drove in about midnight the night before the funeral. Slept, and then got up to go to the funeral. By the time I arrived at the church, there was no occasion for private family viewing. All that was granted me was the opportunity to make the sign of the cross and to venerate the Holy Spirit of which her mortal body is the temple. I kissed her hand. And then I had to move along for the remainder of the guests in line.

I put it: “spend time with Grandma.” I did so quite intentionally. We are not, as one popular music artist puts it, “spirits in the material world.” We are, body and soul, persons in the image of God. No UFO-cult doctrines for us: the body is not a container of the soul which we throw away. Christians have, from the beginning, always and everywhere believed that we are persons of body and soul. If the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, then we do not burn down God’s house. We reverently and devoutly handle this temple, knowing that the separation is a temporary one, only until the resurrection. And so my mother carefully did Grandma’s hair, and my sister lovingly painted her nails (which she so enjoyed in her last days), to reflect, however imperfectly and through mortality, the beauty of the person I knew (and know) as Grandma.

But it is no less true that Grandma’s departure in soul is, as St Paul puts it, a departure to be with Christ. This is a great mystery that has no need of resolution, only veneration. And so the service was deeply evangelical in the root meaning of that word. Grandma’s departure was and is a loving and beautiful testimony to the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. We saw, or, rather, were reminded of, eighty-seven years spent in devotion to Christ. We did not speak of Grandma’s perfection, for we are all sinners and marked by the consequences of our sins. But a life lived in such service to Christ, however, much struggle and adversity we face, cannot be without its transfiguration. Such a transfiguration shines forth a wonderful luminosity. Grandma was beautiful: from the time she was a young woman, until her last days in this mortal life. Even in the mortality that weakened her greatly in her final days, she was a beautiful woman. She is a beautiful woman.

I did not have a chance to speak much with Grandpa, which is understandable. But God gave me a wonderful and amazing gift nonetheless. When I first saw Grandpa, I offered my prayers and sympathies. And almost immediately he began to tell me a gentle and loving moment he had with Grandma. In her last days, as she became more aware of her impending departure, Grandpa asked her if she were afraid. She admitted she was afraid. Grandpa spoke to her to comfort her. A day or so later, Grandpa asked her again. Again, she admitted her fear. And Grandpa, in love, exhorted her to remember the Gospel, to remember her hope in the Lord, to trust in his mercy. He was, in a true act of love from more than sixty years of marriage, assisting Grandma in her final journey to meet her Lord and Savior.

From there the family traveled a couple of hours to the gravesite. By the time we arrived, it was terribly cold. I was given the privilege to be among those who bore Grandma’s body to its final resting place until the resurrection. After the minister spoke and guests could greet family, I kissed the casket and stood for a few brief moments to offer a farewell. I prayed the de Profundis (Psalm 129 [130 in the Masoretic canon]).

Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. If Thou shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, O Lord, who shall stand? For with Thee there is forgiveness. For Thy name’s sake have I patiently waited for Thee, O Lord; my soul hath waited patiently for Thy word, my soul hath hoped in the Lord. From the morning watch until night, from the morning watch let Israel hope in the Lord. For with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption; and He shall redeem Israel out of all his iniquities.

May God grant repose of soul to my grandmother. And may he cause her memory to be eternal.

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I began last year with something I’ve not often begun new years with: a very marked sense of joyous anticipation. This is not to say I greet each year with an Eeyore-like sort of cheerlessness. But the sense of joy mixed with anticipation was quite strong. I felt that something was afoot. I just didn’t know what it would be.

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