I'm singing for a funeral today. This is the third time in the last week that I've been involved in the musical end of a funeral or memorial service. Once for a stranger, once for the 90-year-old father of a long acquaintance, today for a friend.
It is fourteen months since Lon died. Fourteen months since we gathered in church to give thanks to God for both his life and his death. He had suffered for many, many years with Alzheimer's and was ready to be called out of the fog and into his heavenly home. I have been to several funerals during those fourteen months, mostly of very old people. And at each one, I steel myself. If my eyes mist over, or there is a lump in my throat, I shake it off. I think about something else. I'm in the choir loft. There is singing to do. Tears will not help.
Detachment is my gift to the mourners. I explained this, kind of, to my children's choir last week, as they prepared to sing at the funeral of the 90-year-old grandpa. He was not their grandpa. They were not especially sad about his life coming to an end. And so they were able to sing for those who grieved, to give voice to the family's faith, and to the faith of the deceased. Most of all, their song spoke God's promises to the whole congregation, to those sitting downstairs in church, and even to each one of them. Though only ten or eleven or twelve years old, they have feelings about death. Fearful feelings.
Today it's "Amazing Grace," "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need," and "Lord, it belongs not to my care whether I die or live." This last one is a tough one. My friend Gail at the end did not care whether she lived. Beset with medical problems, feeling hopeless, she found, I hope, peace in hospice care. And surely God was there. Yes?
It is complicated. Life is complicated and messy and one does not always have the buoyancy to meet its challenges. I will feel sad today, but I can not dip too deeply into that sadness. When the fullness rises in my chest, some muscles relax too much and others tighten. There is no steady tall column of air to support the singing. The vocal cords move stiffly and the sounds that come out are not controlled, are not supple.
The problem is that floating above the sadness brings out the pissiness in me. My teeth are clenched against the feelings that rise from my gut, and like flint against steel, those clenched teeth strike sparks, shooting off every which way. I must guard what I say today because my own feelings about death and despair will make me sardonic, grim, sarcastic. I have feelings about death, too. But the anger will not help the singing. And grim determination is not the gift I wish to bring today.
Years ago, after another funeral choir experience, I said to someone who had been downstairs in the pews during the funeral, "Yes, it's a good thing for Christians to gather and rejoice and sing in the face of death." To sing that old evil foe back into his proper place on earth. To loft our music into the air, because God will use those harmonies to open heaven and give us a blessed foretaste of his own feast.
My parrners today in singing are first and second graders from Grace School. I'm covering the hymns. They are singing of baptism and the saints worshiping before the throne of God. Awesome. And then they are leaving the balcony, quietly, to go have lunch and then recess.
My life, too, will go on. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.