Ideally, I like to talk to the family members of the dearly departed when I'm doing a funeral. It allows the family members the opportunity to share memories about the loved one, and it also helps me figure out what to say at the funeral, and what will give the most comfort for the family members to hear.
That didn't really happen this time.
First, I called the funeral home on Sunday (the day I found out I was doing the funeral) to get a contact number for someone from the family, to perhaps arrange a time to get together and talk, or even to ask a couple of questions over the phone. Well, it forwarded the call to the funeral director's house, since no one was at the funeral home. He had none of the information with him, but said he would fax it over the next morning. If he did, I never saw it.
The daughter of the dearly departed ended up calling and leaving a message on the church answering machine. She's from Missouri. Her mother lived in Indiana. They had a service for her mother in Indiana, and they wanted a service for her here, as well. Seems she was born here and still has a lot of family in the area, and she's being buried here. Guess they thought they needed another service. And I'm sure the funeral home wasn't going to turn down their money.
I ended up, after playing some phone tag, getting a hold of the daughter who was en route, as we were speaking, to town from wherever in Indiana the previous service was held. So I didn't really feel as if it was the most opportune time to begin asking questions and such. First, I think talking on the phone and driving at the same time is dangerous enough. Add something as emotional as the death of your mother into the mix, and you're playing with fire! So I kept the conversation short, and said I would see her at the funeral home.
When I got to the funeral home she came up to me, and the first words out of her mouth were, "Reverend, I'm not trying to be mean or anything, so don't take this the wrong way, but mom never liked long winded preachers." Since I had no personal information to use in writing the sermon, it is the shortest of the funeral sermons I have had to write. So, I told her that there were no worries, that this sermon would not be long. She also said that her mom liked to bake and the day she died she had baked 12 loaves of banana bread. They snuck one of the loaves into her casket in a White Castle bag. I thought that was funny.
So, I preached the sermon, and at the end I said that we live in hope that some day we will all be reunited in the place that Jesus has gone ahead to prepare for us. And then, spur of the moment, I added, "And I hear there will be plenty of banana bread for us when we get there." That got some chuckles out of the people. I was glad that it was taken well.
It felt as if I only made a cameo appearance at this funeral. In a fit of nervousness, Sunday I asked Supervising if he would be willing to go with me to the funeral. It was at a funeral home out of town, to one I had not yet been to, and I just thought it would be nice to have a familiar face in the crowd. After we got there I loosened up, and he sat in the office so I never saw him, but it was a bit reassuring to know that he was there, although I didn't need him to be. The funeral service did not take very long, and then we drove out to the cemetery. I rode in the hearse, and talked with one of the men about what it was like to be an on-call employee of the funeral home and to respond to all of the deaths in the area, especially when it's almost 11pm and you're tired and ready for bed.
The graveside service always gets me. Especially in the Lutheran Occasional Services book. It seems you get everybody trucked out to the cemetery, get the casket on the stand, get everyone situated and quieted, and then it's over and the funeral director says, "thanks for coming, there's a reception at [wherever the reception is]" I mentioned that to Supervising, that it seems as if there should be more done at the graveside, but he said that people don't want that. They like that it gets done quickly.
So yeah... I hope that I spoke words of grace and hope to the family. I hope that out of the mumbling and stammering that I did that they were able to glean some Good News. I have heard that God can speak from the mouth of an ass, so hopefully God was even able to speak from my mouth to offer words of comfort and assurance to that family.