Friday, September 27, 2013

The Lord has promised good to me

Instead of going to work today, I went to a funeral. It was held at a Lutheran church — formerly ELCA, now LCMC. (For Anglicans, LCMC is a group of about 80 continuing Lutheran churches that would have joined LCMS except they want to ordain women.)

Although the Lutheran Book of Worship was in the pews, the order of service was printed in the bulletin:
  • Greeting
  • Amazing Grace (LBW #448): 3 verses
  • Prayers
  • Recollections of family and friends
  • Scripture: Psalm 23, Revelation 21:1-6, John 14:1-6
  • Homily
  • Prayer
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • How Great Thou Art (LBW #532): 2 verses
Initially, what I was curious about was the challenge of mounting an ecumenical funeral (memorial) service. I'm guessing less than 20% of the congregation were regular parishioners, and the overwhelming majority was under 30. Because the Lord’s Prayer was the King James version,  half the congregation (perhaps more) knew it well enough to recite it in unison.

Amazing Grace went well enough, although I was surprised how few people were singing. (It may be because many don’t normally sing.) We ended with the greatest hit of Carl Boberg (1859-1940), based loosely on his 1885 Swedish poem “O Store Gud” and a Swedish folk tune. The pianist played the tricky rhythm faithfully, but the congregation had trouble singing it without the music (or at least I did).

In the middle were the familiar passages of mourning and the promises of the New Covenant. Everyone knows Psalm 23, but I didn’t realize what was in Revelation 21:4:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. [ESV]
And then for the first time, I heard John 14:2 in the context of John 14:6:
2 “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
4 And you know the way to where I am going.”
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The pastor had an unenviable job, perhaps one of his hardest tasks of the year: explain the death of a 23-year-old man to his parents, his older brother, and a room full of (largely unbelieving) twenty-somethings. This means overcoming the classic “why does a loving God let good things happen to bad people” objection, only more so.

The pastor, the man’s mother and his friends recalled a sensitive, caring and troubled young man. The homily was based on John 10:10
[Jesus said to them] “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
The beginning of the passage seems to fit the man’s (ultimately unsuccessful) fight with his personal demons; the end, the pastor said, reminds us of the promise of eternal life made by Jesus himself.

Or, as the traditional Requiem prayer from the Latin mass
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.
is translated by the Rite I burial service in the 1979 ECUSA prayer book:
Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord:
And let light perpetual shine upon him.

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