Friday, May 13, 2016

Sing me to heaven. . .

In the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing …
      for precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
                -- Apostolic Constitutions VI:30
If ever there is a place for congregational song, it is the funeral.  As a pastor, it is terribly difficult to take the ambiance of the funeral home with its thick carpeting and cushioned pews and low ceilings and lack of cross or Christian symbol and paltry musical instrument and lead God's people in song.  The funeral home is a poor imitation of a church (but that is what it is designed to be).  The funeral director will play songs others sing or instruments play alone but sitting there while we hear someone mimick Vince Gill singing "Go Rest High on that Mountain" is not the same as singing "Children of the Heavenly Father" or "For All the Saints" or "I Know that My Redeemer Lives" together.  Moments of sorrow and tears are moments crying out for a congregation voicing our hope in the sturdy words of great hymns.  Nothing else will do.

Only Christ can teach a grieving people to sing a new song of hope.  Only Christ can offer the healing balm of His own death to salve the wounds of those who must surrender their loved ones to the grave.  Only Christ can speak past death and the grave to the hope that is more than a what if.  Only Christ, the first born of the dead, can give voice to a people mourning the courage to sing of the day when this sorrow will be forgotten and death will no longer inhabit the memory of an everliving people wearing glorious flesh.  

In the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing.  Now there are words of wisdom and faith we need to heed.  In an age when the noble funeral has degenerated into a funny story and some happy memories shared in a celebration of life that came and went, this is sage counsel.  Sing through your tears of Christ the victor.  Sing through your pain of loss the hope that is within us.  Sing the borrowed words and melodies of another when your heart is weighed low in grief and struggles to sing on its own.  Sing away the pain by singing anew the story of Him who died, who rose, and who will never die again -- the great Good Shepherd who will gather us to the eternal green pasture, beside the still quiet waters, and console us with His rod and staff.

When I die, I do not care if you grieve (okay, so I want you to grieve) but I do care if you sing.  I want you to sing.  I want you to give voice this side of glory what one day we shall sing anew in the Kingdom that has no end, in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb forevermore.  

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I have been to many funerals. More than many people. For a two year period of time, following retirement from a NYS government job, I worked as a Cemetery Representative at Veterans National Cemetery. I was charged with administrative duties like scheduling burials, writing up headstone information, leading a procession of the grieving families and friends of the deceased to the committal shelter and gravesite. I often folded the American flag to present to a widow, doing so with another representative or funeral director. For our veterans, there would be taps played, a military ceremony, and sometimes a Bag Pipe sounded through the green treed cemetery fields. , Closure for some, but not for all. Some family members were almost apathetic, others in deep sorrow. Sometimes there would be a guitarist, and everyone sang"Amazing Grace." Some funerals had in excess of hundreds of people, some just one or two, still some had none at all. Sometimes there was a priest, deacon, Rabbi, or a Protestant Reverend. I saw only one Muslim officiated ceremony in two years. The rows of carefully placed headstones and mowed grass was always a reminder of our fragile ties here, and my own mortality as well. The quiet prayers spoken by clergy and loved ones were songs in themselves, a crying out to God. And when people who are jaded and cynical say we are not a Christian nation....I say..We are imperfect people, sinners all, but many millions of us since the founding have been Christians and know Our Lord and Savior. After death comes to each of our doors, we shall rise to be with Him for evermore.