Saturday, March 03, 2007

snows and wind

As if on cue, the winds started on the first day of March. This morning, there was a lot of snow (about a quarter of an inch in one hour) and then as the day warmed up, a lot of it melted away.

A member of our parish choir lost her husband unexpectedly last week, and the funeral was this morning, so I re-joined the choir for a day to help sing in the service. My cassack and cotta were still hanging in the locker, and most of the music was familiar, including Webster's "The Dawning," Rutter's "God Be in My Head" and Durufle's "Ubi Caritas." A soloist sang Copeland's setting of "Shall We Gather At the River" and another sang Duruffle's "Pie Jesus." The church was full, and the service was quite moving. I am not sure what it is like for the priests, but singing at a funeral is one of the most difficult roles for a choir. We are human, we grieve, but in singing on behalf of the family and the parish we must put aside emotion.

Funerals, like baptisms, are not just about the families involved, although they are certainly about those grieving over the loss of their loved one. Funerals are opportunities for the parish to comfort and surround the family, to honor the dead, and together to pray through some of the most comforting words in the Book of Common Prayer, words of faith expressing our prayers for the dead, our relationship to God and our hope for the world to come.

But funerals are also about remembering others whom we have lost as well as facing our own mortality. They are part of living out our faith here and now, not coasting on previous generation's faith, but dealing with our lives and losses here and now. And so we all share together in both grieving and the celebration of life among us. We are not on our own -- God is with us, and we are also a part of the Communion of Saints, the long line of folk before us, fellow strugglers, fellow believers.


Emily said...

Funerals for this priest can be fulfilling, moving, emotional, awful, awe-ful. . .really depends on the circumstances.

I do find singing at funerals to be one of the most difficult things--that whole "they who sing pray twice" thing is really operative. Singing opens me up to that emotional part that I don't always access and sometimes, especially if they are familiar hymns, I can lose it.

Surprisingly, I have found that the liturgy itself is quite helpful in keeping me on track as a leader. Sometimes the preaching part is hard, when it's an unexpected and/or traumatic death.

Don said...

Emily -- thanks for sharing. I agree about music opening some part of us, having some affect that maybe words alone wouldn't cause. Singing in the choir, I often have strong feelings while singing the words, in fact a much stronger reaction than I usually have in listening to spoken sermons.

When people have strokes or brain injury, they sometimes can sing full songs while not being able to make complete sentences. Music gets stored in a different part of the brain.

AKMA said recently on his blog that he encourages his students not to write checks that they cannot cash when they preach, ie, make statements and promises in their sermons that are not truly understood or real to them. I would think that at a time of death, particularly under the circumstances you describe, that there are moments when the hardness is in saying the right words, or merely listening.

But again, I think the burden is on all of us, not merely our priests, to comfort and support in tough times.