Funerals are Easter moments; moments when God’s promises are proclaimed and Christians are reminded where their hope lies. Yet this is an ironic truth. Funerals are usually the last place we think of when seeking hope. Funerals are where people gather to recognize someone is no longer living, their death is marked and their life remembered. And people come to funerals come at various stages of accepting the loss, this passing of life. Good funerals recognize this reality, but the truth is a funeral doesn’t require the community to be ready. Christian funerals are more about pointing to another truth, one that lies outside of us. God, the creator of the universe and the creator of us, promises a way of life that extends beyond this world. And this is where our hope is grounded.
During Lent I was reminded how death has many forms and exists all around us. Sometimes we recognize it, and other times we push it aside. This past Holy Week I was drawn into the mystery of dying and the importance of honoring life by recognizing death. Society doesn’t know what to do with death, leaving many of wandering in the wilderness. Yet Christians need not fear death. And in fact, I’ll go as far as to say abundant living cannot happen unless we deal with death and dying. Said differently, I’m not sure I can live abundantly in the promises of Easter without participating in funerals.
Lately I have been trying to find ways of living abundantly in a season of dying. Some might say, great – you did the work of Lent and they’d be right. But entering Lent I was unaware how prevalent the dying was around me. The deaths I am experiencing are not physical. Rather they are a series of realities that have resulted in a season of endings and letting go. Meaningful work has ended, relationships are in transition, connections redirected, and communities forging new vision. The future looks very little like the past and a new path has not yet emerged. Many days I’m in a place, or accompanying others, trying to live between abundant living and the process of dying.
I was taken back by this recognition because the dying was not quick and definite. No, the dying has been a series of dying “moments”, ones which you think you can handle, but as they keep coming life turns into a rollercoaster, exhaustion sets in, and the future gets lost in the fog. During such a season, time is both a friend and an enemy.
Perhaps some of you know what this is like. Maybe you have accompanied someone through a long stint in the hospital or journeyed with a person that has a terminal disease; there are moments where the core of life is crystal clear and there are moments where death is so close you feel it. Sometimes you find the strength to push death off one more day and life wins for a moment. Sometimes you wish death would take over. Sometimes hope is secure, no matter the ending, and sometimes despair fills your spirit. God is present in many ways in such seasons; at times that is enough, at other times it’s a curse.
Sitting in Maundy Thursday worship, it became clear to me I needed a funeral – I needed to let go of my hope for life (at least how I imagined it) and be prepared for naming and confirming death. It was a moment where I confessed, I cannot longer live “in between,” where something, someone is neither alive nor dead. “In between” is a hard place to find life. The world is small and focused. And while grieving can begin, there is no way to move forward until death has been marked – the last breath taken, time of death recorded, and the words publicly stated. Sitting in worship on Thursday, I knew it was time, and I opened myself to such a reality.
Entering Good Friday worship, I came ready to hear the words, to acknowledge that brokenness and pain are real in the world, and loving deeply means risking a piece of ourselves. And, as I did, my eyes drifted to the cross. I can’t imagine what Jesus went through thousands of years ago, but I can feel, deep within me in a way words cannot express, the sin of the world – my sin, the sin of society, and the need we all have for grace and healing. And I heard Scripture and songs in a deeper way. Now what I needed was a funeral.
And two days later, Easter morning came. Our family worshiped with many others, and heard the news of the empty tomb. The loss and pain had not magically disappeared, but interestingly the fog had cleared enough to hear the message of hope again. “There is a new day ahead, one where there will be no more tears and no more pain. I promise!”
My season of dying is not over. I still have good-byes ahead and endings to come. Some are simply endings for which the future is open with possibilities; others are simply endings. But on this side of the funeral, I’ve been reminded of the promises of the empty tomb, and I’m once again seeking life.
My prayer for you is that you too may hear the promises of the empty tomb.