I have written before that the one aspect of pastoral ministry that I miss most is serving at funerals (including being with the immediate family beforehand and after). A few months ago, Betty asked me to serve at her funeral, as she knew that she moving into her last days among us. Betty was a member of a church I served in a temporary part-time way about three-four years ago. I said that as long as the one now serving as pastor of that congregation invited me with his blessing, I would be honored to serve.
Last week Betty died. Her son called and invited me to serve at her funeral. The current pastor graciously consented and I said yes. It was serving in three parts. First, I met with the family at the funeral home for their private time the evening before the service. Second, I served at the funeral on Monday morning, with the current pastor present and participating. Third, later on Monday, I met with the family at the graveside for the final words of committal and commendation, those solemn and beautiful words.
To be asked to serve in this way is an honor I don’t take lightly. It humbles me and touches the chords of my heart. I didn’t know Betty all that long, but I enjoyed our friendship during those months and appreciated her welcome, support, and encouragement.
All went well Monday morning and afternoon. Betty had left detailed instructions for her family. She selected all the music and scripture readings. Those choices were thoughtful and helped me to arrange my thoughts. When we met at the graveside later in the day, it just happened to be a beautiful mid-autumn day with sun and clouds and cool, crisp air. When I finished saying those brief words that I have long since memorized, each of us took a rose and placed it on the coffin. We shared hugs and expressions of gratitude and left.
Later that day when I arrived home, I found out that Eugene Peterson, a mentor in my pastoral life and work, died the same morning. I wondered if Eugene may have died while I was serving at Betty’s funeral.
Facing the reality of death—honoring good rituals and hearing and pondering good words—is one of the healthiest things we can do for our souls. I am profoundly grateful for last Monday.
Rest in peace, Betty and Eugene. You never knew each other, but I had the privilege of knowing both of you and experiencing glimpses of God’s grace through you.