Those of us who work in the church know how trivial, vain and self-serving the “institutional” church (as we used to call it in seminary—as if there were any other kind) can be. But we also wonder what we would do without the church. How could you celebrate Christmas without the church? How could you wake up in the dark of Easter morning without the church?
One of the difficult decisions, and sometimes compromises, ministers regularly make involves conducting funerals and memorial services for people who are not members of the congregation. It happens fairly often: a telephone call, sometimes from a funeral director, informs you of a death and the family’s hope that the service can be in your church and that you will preside.
Two months after the memorial service they found Vinnie's body. Silence washed over Ground Zero. Hats were removed, bodies waited reverently as they lifted him from the wreckage and carried him out. Several days later I attended the liturgy. When the congregation sang, "Lord, let at last thine angels come," we knew that once again in these latter days God had spoken to us.
It’s sunny and 70 at Chapel Hill. I’m speaking to Project Compassion, an advocacy group for end-of-life issues, on an unlikely trinity of oxymorons—the good death, good grief and the good funeral. “What,” most people reasonably ask, “can ever be good about death or grief or funerals?” The 150 people in this room understand.