Since the start of the new year, my congregation has lost 29 people to death – either members of the church or close family members.
I can’t remember ever having gone through a stretch quite like this.
During this week following Easter, a week when I ordinarily catch my breath after a busy Lenten season, we will have four funerals or memorials services, every day Tuesday through Friday. Two of them may involve overflow crowds. One of the larger ones is for a physician who is said to have delivered more than 9,000 babies during his career in this community. (One of his nurses in the ICU tearfully told me that he had delivered her.)
Yes, death is a part of life. Yes, we are not people who grieve as those who have no hope (to paraphrase the Apostle Paul). And yes, as I’ve written before, I actually feel more like a pastor at a funeral than I do with many other pastoral responsibilities.
On Easter morning I said in my sermon that Easter worship is not a time for reasons or explanations. I’ve never preached an Easter sermon titled “Thirteen Incontrovertible Proofs for the Resurrection” – and don’t plan to any time soon. I don’t think anyone really wants to hear on Easter morning why it’s reasonable to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
What I said was, “This is a day to believe if there ever was one, to open ourselves to the possibility that it’s true, that death is not the last word that will be spoken about us.”
I’m glad I believe that. I’m glad I came to that conviction early in my ministry. During my first year following ordination, I officiated at something like 60 funeral services. A great deal of my job description at that first church right out of seminary was focused on pastoral care. I called on homebound people and naturally was the first person to be asked to officiate at the funeral.
At the time, the pace of funerals seemed like a lot, especially for someone so new to ministry. My mentor said, “You’d better figure out what you believe – and do it quickly.” I did. I believe in the promise of Easter.
And haven’t wavered in that belief.