I had a powerful experience this past week.
You see, I am an Episcopal priest. It is no secret that the average age of the Episcopal Church is significantly older than the average age of the population in general.
And so it is that I do lots of funerals. “Lots,” here, means perhaps one every six weeks.
Last week I performed a burial service for a man who was baptized at my parish many years ago but was living in Dallas. He was in his early 60′s and died from a sudden heart attack while jogging.
At his funeral in Tyler not one family member was present; instead I was surrounded by about fifty friends who came to grieve and celebrate. Fifty friends together with his 9th grade Sunday School teacher from our parish.
Today I received a letter from his brother, his brother who has been incarcerated for years. He thanked me for performing the service, and went on to explain that, at the exact time of the service, he was reading the Order for Burial, worshipping with us, hundreds of miles away from his prison cell.
And here is how he closed his letter: “There is a little noticed page in our Book of Common Prayer that is really helping me get through this, page 507. Check it out. May the Lord be with you.”
Here is what appears on page 507 of the Book of Common Prayer:
The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.
The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from teh love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn.