Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Bethel was the place I officiated at my first funeral. Bethel was one of the three churches on the Stapleton Charge. Out in the country, it served the rural community of folks around it. One Sunday a month I would go out for Bethel's "preaching Sunday." The rest of the time it was just Sunday School on Sunday mornings. I had been a student pastor for almost two years before I got the call that I had dreaded receiving. While I knew I would eventually have to do funerals, I was certainly not eager for it to happen. I remember it as being more than a bit frightening. Interestingly enough, I have never had a funeral since in which more raw emotion was expressed. What I experienced that day was more than overwhelming for this preacher who was a deep shade of green. Nothing about seminary really provided the necessary preparation for that afternoon.
Of course, there have been many more since that first one. Even after all these years, they still remain as one of the more difficult moments of ministry. Being a pastor is like having an invitation to stand in the midst of one of the most significant and hardest moments in the life of a family. Back then, not knowing what to say prompted my greatest fear. However, what has been learned is that saying the right thing in those times is not nearly as important as simply being present with compassion and love.
When I said "Yes!" to Jesus and a call to preach, I did not ever really think about the way that decision would take me into such difficult moments of ministry. However, that single choice has enabled me to understand the reality of resurrection power prevailing in our lives. In those moments of loss and grief, I have always been so very thankful for that one single truth. It does not remove the pain of the grief, but it certainly causes us to grieve with a confidence that death does not have the last word.