Friday, November 08, 2013

I did not know Elvis recorded "It is Well with My Soul!" It served as a recessional at a funeral today.

A day after receiving word of the arrangements (and determining I couldn't possibly attend), a Facebook friend posted an NPR story advising to "always go to funerals." Feeling a bit fated, I entered the address of the church into my GPS and set out with my youngest for the 45 minute drive down the shore. As we neared the town and the street, I remembered that I had taken a photograph of this stately church a couple of years previous after Joseph at the Algonquin.

First Baptist Church, Manasquan - August 2011

An usher directed us to a seat about midway up and I chose the side aisle to it. I immediately recognized someone from Community Bible Study: she was standing just behind the reserved rows and was turned completely around, as if looking for someone. I nodded towards her when our eyes met but I can't be sure she recognized me. She was my CBS core group leader two years ago.

The organist was playing that old "I love you, Lord (and I lift my voice)" over and over again with slight variations. Ella said the organ sounded like circus music. I suppose she's want of exposure to better organ music than emanates from the carousel at the mall. For the opening hymn, "How Great Thou Art," I dropped my voice an octave and got my Baptist singin' on. The man behind me sang great.

The pastor flew through the opening hymn and Scripture readings so quickly, I thought we'd be out of there in 20 minutes. The service felt rushed and without realizing that the program continued on the back cover, I saw no reason. I noted that the pastor recited substantial chunks of Paul's letters from memory (1 Thess. 4:13-18, Romans 8) but needed to read from the Gospels. To his credit, he seemed to have the Lord's words memorized - “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"- , but not Thomas'. "Amen" was interjected occasionally, with varied introductions, "And all God's people said ...," etc.

The ladies I knew from CBS each gave tributes. The phrase "our little club" sticks out in my mind. But it was an inclusive club, they said. Now there's "a gaping hole." Poems were read. Her son played a number on guitar. The pastor said, in a shameless plug, that the boy plays music most Sundays there. "So if you liked what you just heard ..." Com'on back and see us.

The emotion with which the tributes were delivered brought tears to mine own eyes. I spied boxes of tissues placed strategically on each window ledge but the one nearest me looked empty. In fact the box was so new, so full, that no tissue had yet been taken. I took one to get it started.

After the family had had their say, the pastor articulated a personal appeal directed towards any hapless fool in attendance who was unacquainted with the Lord or eternal salvation by faith. But his words were phrased as if coming, not from himself but from the deceased. "She would want you to know the joy of knowing ..." No doubt. It would take a very brave individual to sit an hour in a Baptist church without knowing Jesus. More likely, they simply think they know. For the benediction, he asked everyone to pray with him. It's less intercessory, that way. Immediately, every head bowed (except mine and probably my daughter's). It was quaint and probably a bit humble. Certainly not self-conscious.

During all the talking, I reflected on my motives for attending. There's the general principle that if I know about something, I make every effort. But I've missed two funerals in the past four months that fit that principle. Even though I expected to see ladies from CBS there, I don't think hobnobbing was my motivation. I sensed that some who cried were really crying for themselves. Well, of course they are. If they have faith, they aren't crying for the deceased. Maybe they were wondering whether so many will turn out for them. When the time comes, they won't care.


Anonymous said...

I've sung at one and attended one other evangelical funeral, as well as a smattering of weddings, and I always feel a bit of Scripture whiplash. They quote and quote and quote but never stop to reflect, which I find difficult.

RAnn said...

What I always notice is that there are no prayers for the deceased--but if you don't believe in purgatory, there is no point in praying for the dead. Still, is seems odd to me.

Moonshadow said...

Right, RAnn, there's none of that, but informally they might say, "May she rest in peace," which is a prayer. A natural instinct.

Carol@simple_catholic said...

I went to a Baptist funeral years ago and remember thinking the same thing as RAnn about there not being prayers for the deceased. It seemed rather strange.

Joann Nelander said...

Thank God for purgatory. Thank God for prayers for the dead. Thank God for the month of November. Thank God for the intercession of the saints and St. Joseph and his intercession for a "happy death"

I enjoyed your post.