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
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
Today I took a funeral on my
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.