We had the largest funeral that has been held at our church since I have been pastor here last Sunday. It was a funeral for a woman who had been a school teacher in the community for almost forty years. She retired from teaching just prior to my coming as pastor but had taught first grade in this community and the adjacent one for those many decades. I knew she was very well known but I was not ready for the huge crowd that turned out for her funeral.
Our church can seat around 300 persons on special days such as Easter Sunday but we have never before had so many people in attendance that even chairs in the rear of the sanctuary, throughout the overflow, and in other places could seat them all. People were standing in the back, seated in the church library and nursery so they could hear the service via speakers, and some just sat in the fellowship hall during the service even though they could not participate due to technical difficulties in our speaker system out there.
The service was the usual funeral service we normally do at our church with hymns, scripture readings, and prayers. I presented a homily that related the faith that this woman possessed and her service to the church and the world around her. Then her daughter and grandson told stories about her life that painted the picture of the unique person that she was. Finally, a duet sang the song that her two daughters had requested to be sung at the service, a song that was originally featured in a movie but has become popular in American culture--"Wind Beneath My Wings."
This song was sung because it expressed how the two daughters felt about their mother, a woman who overcame many challenges in order to help the daughters to become independent women with families and careers of their own. She empowered them by equipping them for life through her example of someone who dealt with the challenges on a daily basis but did not give up even in the face of overwhelming odds.
How must it have felt to be a woman in her 30s, happily married with two children in elementary school and to have her husband die suddenly? Faced with the challenge of carrying on to educated and nurture her two girls, she gathered up all the emotional strength she could and pressed forward into the future with her family beside her. Plagued by health issues as a result of a tragic accident early in life, she dealt with each one as they came along and did what was required daily to keep healthy and active. She had a strong community and church family to support her, but ultimately the decision to keep moving each day was hers alone and she did that with great strength and fortitude.
Last Sunday afternoon was a beautiful Texas spring day (even though it is officially still winter, we had a bit of spring that day) and for about 500 people to give up such an afternoon when we have had few of those this winter in order to be wedged into a church facility that was not designed to contain such a crowd is a tribute in itself to this woman. Many would have looked at the size of the crowd with dismay and turned around to go home but even those standing remained for the hour that the service lasted and did not leave until its conclusion. The fellowship hall was filled with persons afterwards who returned to continue to express their words of hope to the family over dessert and coffee and tea provided by a large band of workers. The day was tiring but fulfilling in that all things worked together for good to express the love of church and community to the family who needed to experience it.
Jesus was in a house one time teaching an overflowing crowd when suddenly the roof tiles began to move and a cot with a sick man was lowered through the roof down into the middle of the crowd so that he could bring healing to the sick man. Jesus healed the man and the crowd experienced the power and grace of God among them. We experienced the same thing last Sunday among the crowd gathered at our church. God's power and grace was made evident through the presence of so many who cared and through their words and actions that spoke peace even in the face of death.
Modern life has become so busy that people rarely take the time to attend funerals anymore. Many make a quick pass by the funeral home at visitation time to say a few words to the grieving ones and then go on their way but when people are willing to block out time in their lives and devote that time to being present to others when the circumstances are not optimum, then you certainly can feel the love made manifest through such an experience. God bless those who will take the time to put their own needs and desires aside in order to be present to others who need them. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.