With Covid restrictions lifting, the church is back in (modified) business. One of the things we did not do for the duration of the pandemic was funerals. People, however, continued to die. This brought much sorrow to grieving families who needed the closure that a memorial service brings. Funerals truly are designed for the living, not for the dead. To gather in a quiet sanctuary where you hear the resurrection proclaimed, sing hymns of faith, and tell stories of the departed can be a soothing balm for every hurting soul.
We have done several funerals in the last month and it feels right again. In life, in death, and in life beyond death, we need the comfort of being gathered together to sustain us.
I love the moment after a memorial service when the family has gathered in the Fellowship Hall to receive guests. The tension and formality of the service is behind us and we can hug, comfort, and laugh together as we swap stories and share memories. With a glass of lemonade in one hand and a plate of deviled eggs and finger sandwiches in the other, we take the next step together toward life without the decedent. Even in the midst of pain, we have a sense that God will make everything all right because we have friends and family we can count on.
It is a holy privilege to officiate a funeral. To see God’s abiding spirit among the mourners is a blessing every time.
Our Psalm today is a tribute to God’s presence in the holy city of Jerusalem. The psalmist reminds us that God is present in the city, the mountain, the palaces, and indeed the whole earth as he knew it:
Psalm 48 (New King James Version)
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised
In the city of our God,
In His holy mountain.
2 Beautiful in elevation,
The joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion on the sides of the north,
The city of the great King.
3 God is in her palaces;
He is known as her refuge.
God’s presence in Jerusalem is so well known that foreign kings tremble as they pass:
4 For behold, the kings assembled,
They passed by together.
5 They saw it, and so they marveled;
They were troubled, they hastened away.
6 Fear took hold of them there,
And pain, as of a woman in birth pangs,
7 As when You break the ships of Tarshish
With an east wind.
8 As we have heard,
So we have seen
In the city of the Lord of hosts,
In the city of our God:
God will establish it forever. Selah
It is interesting to note how the focus of “God in his temple on Mount Zion” begins to change over time to include “God at the ends of the earth.” The early Israelites thought that God resided in one location: first it was the tent of the meeting in the desert, then the ark of the covenant, then the holy of holies in the temple in Jerusalem…it was a while before the concept of “God is everywhere” began to take hold.
9 We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness,
In the midst of Your temple.
10 According to Your name, O God,
So is Your praise to the ends of the earth;
Your right hand is full of righteousness.
11 Let Mount Zion rejoice,
Let the daughters of Judah be glad,
Because of Your judgments.
12 Walk about Zion,
And go all around her.
Count her towers;
13 Mark well her bulwarks;
Consider her palaces;
That you may tell it to the generation following.
When Jesus came, we understood him to be Emmanuel, which translates to “God with us.” We understand that God is not limited to a location, but is present with us no matter where we are. He is present in our lives and most certainly in our deaths as he leads us from life to everlasting life.
14 For this is God,
Our God forever and ever;
He will be our guide
Even to death.
This is what we proclaim at a funeral. God is our fortress in life and he will be our guide even to death. Therefore we will not fear! God goes with us through the valley of the shadow of death and we are never alone. Thanks be to God.