Friday, August 29, 2014

The Theology of the Funeral Dinner

I make it a habit to stop by the kitchen when there’s a funeral to thank the ladies (and occasional gentleman) for their service. On this occasion I was stopping by at the end of the meal, and when I thanked the ladies, one of the ladies indicated that it was really no big deal.

I told her that it was a really big deal, and then said, “Someday I’ll have to give you my theology of the funeral dinner.”

“I’d really like to hear that, Pastor.” 

I think it’s too easy sometimes to look at simple ways you serve and think it really isn’t a big deal. It’s easy to not recognize the sacred space your care for someone else is creating. So I offer here Pastor Ramona’s theology of the funeral dinner.
  1.       The funeral dinner provides a transitional space from grieving to moving back into day-to-day life. It is pastoral care – providing a place for continued mourning, for remembering, for connecting with friends and loved ones, and for starting the process of learning how to live without the loved one who has died.
  2.        The funeral dinner practices the presence of Jesus.
  3.        The funeral dinner practices God’s hospitality. This is a space where all are welcome, all are cared for, and all are fed.
  4.        The funeral dinner provides a foretaste of the feast to come. I believe that every time we gather around a meal as the body of Christ, we are getting a little sample of the wedding feast of the Lamb.
  5.       The funeral dinner affirms the hope for the resurrection. We gather after the funeral and committal, and we engage in a practice essential for life – we eat. We acknowledge that there is life, that death is not the end-all and the be-all.

And that’s why I think that making a cake, and setting a table, and dropping off salads, is every bit as important as the prayers, and writing the sermon, and preparing the committal service. The funeral dinner is every bit as important as a family prayer service, and in my opinion just as profound and meaningful as a funeral and graveside service.

So I want to say thank you to all the hands and hearts that go into preparing and serving the funeral meal. Thank you for taking the time to bake a cake or pan of bars when you got home from work, or dropping off a salad or pickles. Thank you to everyone who comes early in the morning to start the potatoes, who takes time out of their schedule to come and serve, who stays to wash the dishes. Thank you also to 
those of you who run out to set up the tables and make sure the sanctuary is clean (and that goes for you guys whose wives ask you to go to out and help out).

You may not have realized it but that morning, your hands were God’s hands, your work was God’s work, and your arms were Jesus is comforting arms.