Today is my birthday. It has been a good day, so far. I took a funeral.
Douglas had served as Area Secretary of the National Federation of Building Trades Employers and as Director of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association NE.
At his funeral, we reflected on how much he had in common with Jesus, who was, from his teenage years and for most of his adult life, a builder. We read a passage from John’s Gospel where Jesus speaks of his heavenly Father’s home having many dwelling places, and of Jesus preparing a dwelling place for us and promising to return for us. In Jesus’ culture, a prospective groom and his parents would go to the home of a prospective bride. The groom’s parents would present the matter, that their son wished to marry this other couple’s daughter and they would understandably want to know the young man’s prospects. They would set out the family credentials: we imagined the conversation when Douglas spoke to his future father-in-law, a shy young man entering a large and gregarious family; of how he loved Ray’s daughter Maureen, and was a hard worker, a good worker, and would do right be her. As he did.
If the match was accepted, a betrothal party was thrown, a celebration of a life that had now come to an end. Then the groom went home with his parents. Most people lived in one-room dwellings, but often a multi-generation extended family might live in such rooms around a shared central courtyard. The groom would build a new dwelling on the courtyard, in which to begin a new life with his bride, and then return to take her to her new home. Their marriage was celebrated with a second party, the wedding banquet.
This is the imagery Jesus employs, to speak of his relationship with us, his bride, the Church.
We noted that today, this celebration of Douglas’ life up till now, and of the life we had shared with him, was the first party, the betrothal party. We celebrated that life with thankful hearts, as already begun in the cards sent to Maureen that cover the dining table, and to be continued in earnest at the wake.
We look forward to the second party, the wedding banquet, when we shall be together again—though I did say that I hoped that it would be many years before Maureen was reunited with Douglas, because there is nothing spoiling in heaven. But when we are reunited with all our loved ones, past and present, it will be glorious.
And we noted that after today’s party, from tomorrow, we wait. And prepare ourselves for that day. And there will be good days ahead, I promise; but also days when, like Thomas in our Gospel reading, we have a wobble. And so we party today, and we remind ourselves and one another that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We remind ourselves of his promises.
And then we went on to the crematorium. We entered to Louis Armstrong singing We Have All The Time In TheWorld, which is 3 minutes and 20 seconds of perfection; and I stood at the podium and danced and sang along, as if it were the first dance at the engagement party. Which is exactly what it was.
Rest in peace, Douglas, and rise in glory.
And thank you, Louis, for singing so beautifully for my birthday.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
Today I took a funeral on my birthday.
I spoke about the person whose life we were giving thanks to God for. And I spoke about Jesus, to whom we might entrust our lives, now and always. I spoke about how their two lives connected, and about how our stories connect to theirs.
After the funeral, it was reported back to me that, on the strength of what they had heard, someone (I don’t know who, and that is probably for the best) who had stopped attending church several years ago was thinking they might give church another go.
If you were to ask me what I would like as a birthday present, it would have been hard to top that.
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