Just another manic Monday, it began with a few rapid-fire texts to other pastors in the area to try and locate a pall. I’m not sure I knew exactly what a pall looked like until today. It continued in rapid fire fashion — simultaneously I had the following things occurring in the building: a funeral visitation complete with casket and a hundred beautiful flowers in the sanctuary; Asian refugees with children getting resettled in my basement with occasional train forays to the bathroom upstairs; a Transition Nashville potluck complete with slide show presentation in my fellowship hall; Spanish lessons in the back office; a therapy session in the middle office and what else…oh yeah, key electronic devices decided to break down. I have come to see this as normal, sigh, the day is closing and I can say that it was good (oh, death where is thy sting, oh grave, where is thy victory?)
Sometimes victories are small, like throwing away the five tubs of potato salad brought in for the grieving family that had exceeded its bad bacteria window by about four hours.
Sometimes the experience is invaluable, like learning that you must pace yourself to get through a six hour funeral visitation and an old Baptist minister is more gracious than you ever could have imagined; especially upon learning that you are in fact, not just a member of the church (his initial question) but the pastor herself. From then, we spoke as pastors, and I will treasure this.
He said that he had been the pastor of the First Baptist church down the road for 30 plus years and I said, “that was a good sized church, I have heard.”
He said, “Yes, at one time we had five thousand members.”
I shook my head and said, “I can’t imagine that.”
To which he replied, “it was hard for me to imagine, too, it was very hard.”
I knew what he meant. We sat down and planned the funeral service and he asked me to pray for everyone before he left. I obliged and on the way out, he shook hands with everyone and invited them all to his revival. He was genuinely smooth, I have so much to learn, I thought.
The pressing in of those who come to pay homage to the dead in a church is an honest and somber thing. Before they come, I survey the rickety railing out front that needs to be stabilized, the yoga gear and leftover Taize candles that need to be picked up from the chapel floor, the holes and scuff marks on the walls, the cobwebs in the corners, the grape juice stains on the carpet. What do I see, really, but evidence of the living? Why should I be concerned about that? When people fill a room with their respect and gentle conversation, all of these scars tend to fade away and are made perfect in the long ray of late afternoon sun through the leaded glass window. (They all said so later.)
Sometimes in this vocation, you get to linger and hover in that space between the living and the dead. You never get to choose when this happens. Today was such a day. No, I am not sentimentalizing, it’s a true and honest moment in which all the collective humanity and all the invading Divine kiss one another. One has something to give, another something to take in the inevitable exchange. Here, I will give you a mother and someday you will give her back. Here, I will give you a child and there is no guarantee that this precious gift will last a lifetime. You cling, but you must let go. You want to follow but you must stop short and let her go. You must watch as the beautician lovingly curls her hair in the soft folds of the coffin. You must accept that this is the very last day you will touch her skin.
At the end of the day, we took the remaining food to place it in the industrial fridge in the kitchen. The digital thermometer read 88 degrees. It was about the third major electrical product to fail today. “How strange,” I thought, “should I call the electrician?” I hadn’t had time to call the tech for the copier, the internet service provider, come to think of it, the phone had not rang all day, then there was that two hour period where my finance chair had unintentionally locked me out of my office after counting yesterday’s offering…nah, it was already eight o’clock at night. I just pulled the plug, turned out the lights and decided to save it for tomorrow morning, at which point I would call in the experts.