One gift of being a pastor is that death stands right in front of us. We understand that our days are numbered.
For career day at my daughter's school, I brought pictures of some of the things pastors do. The students were mostly interested in the funerals.
For no reason I can remember, I put the ’90s classic Four Weddings and a Funeral on my Netflix queue and re-watched it recently. The scene etched in my mind all these years was that of the funeral. John Hannah, with his beautiful Scottish accent, reads “Funeral Blues” by W. H. Auden. What the clip leaves off is the funeral officiant, presumably an Anglican priest, introducing the beloved partner of the man in the coffin as “his closest friend.”
U2's subway prank created a strange sort of intimacy and spontaneous community. I felt a similar dynamic at play at a recent funeral.
Before we can say that "earth to earth" is a good thing, we have to believe it's really going to happen—not just to others, but to us.
"When I’m gone just cremate me,” Hughey MacSwiggan told his third and final wife as she stood at his bedside while the hospice nurse fiddled with the morphine drip that hadn’t kept his pain at bay. The operative word in his directive was just. He wasn’t especially fond of fire. He hadn’t picked out a favorite urn. He saw burning not so much as an alternative to burial as an alternative to bother. He just wanted it all to be over.
With surprising swiftness and dramatic results, a significant segment of American Christians has over the past 50 years abandoned previously established funeral customs in favor of an entirely new pattern of memorializing the dead. Generally included in the pattern is a brief, customized memorial service (instead of a funeral), a focus on the life of the deceased, an emphasis on joy rather than sadness, and a private disposition of the deceased.
When Harriet Ericson died at age 93, she went to the grave in the same manner in which she lived her final years—lovingly tended by her son Rodger Ericson of Austin, Texas. The former U.S. Air Force chaplain and Lutheran pastor (ELCA) bathed, anointed and dressed his mother’s body, then laid it in a casket he had built himself and named “hope chest” to reflect the family’s faith in the resurrection. The next day, with the help of his daughters and grandsons, he lifted her casketed remains into the bed of his pickup truck and secured the precious cargofor a road trek to Minnesota, where a family grave plot waswaiting.