Note: this the last of a series. Mystery Worship One is here; Mystery Worship Two is here; Mystery Worship Three is here. Four is here. Five is here. Six is here. Seven is here. Eight is here. Nine is here. Ten is here. Eleven is here.
For weeks now, I’ve wandered into different churches in different places, seeking to learn how they worship, and how I experience different types of worship. Some were wonderful, some awful, most just ordinary. One in particular especially touched my soul.
But worship takes place in other venues, sometimes quite powerfully. Today, I offer the mystery worship of two memorial services I attended in the last two weeks.
Death, no matter how well expected or even welcomed in some cases, nearly always leaves people stunned and numb. The worst is the loss of infants and children—no parent ever wants to bury a child. Mourners need a place to acknowledge grief. No matter how strong our belief in life after death, the one who has died is not with us any longer physically. We will not hear the voice, stroke the hair, walk hand in hand, engage in two-way conversations.
But there must be more than just mourning. This is also time for stories, for funny memories, and celebration of the person’s uniqueness’s and oddities. A good memorial service means laughter as well as tears, a place to go into the full range of human emotions. It may also need to be a time to offer forgiveness, release grudges and become free from old hurts and wounds.
The first one service celebrated the life of a friend from Lovers Lane United Methodist Church, where I previously served. I was grieved to hear of this death and relieved to hear that she had died peacefully, passing from this life to the next the way she wished.
During the service, I found myself immersed in the wonders of sensing the presence of God, the impact that this woman’s life had made on so many, and reliving some great memories of someone with whom I had bonded so tightly and unexpectedly—though a generation apart, we had become instant friends over our shared work.
The interplay of the Scripture readings, the excellent music—organ and bagpipe—the hymns, prayers and message wove a net that gently held me and the others as we savored our memories of friend, co-worker, sister, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother.
A former pastor led the service and brought the message. With great skill and clear love for and knowledge of her, he wove the Beatitudes through her life, knitting together timeless words into a time-bound story.
The second service I attended was a celebration of the life of a man whom I did not know. However, I had recently become acquainted with his wife and wanted to attend in support of her.
It was not held in a church, nor particularly religious in nature, as was appropriate in this case. Still I found myself caught up in the mystery of life and death, of the history of a complex man who had lived fully, loved many, and delighted his friends. The riches of his nature, including his dark side and some of the difficulties that it caused, were freely shared. Stories from friends and family–funny, profound, sad, real–simply mesmerized me. Again, powerful and well-done music held us together.
Both services ended with gracious invitations to extend the time over food where family and friends could gather and converse leisurely and comfortably. People now move far from hometowns. A funeral often serves as a reunion, renewing family and friendship bonds.
Great services, the very best—and I’ve seen the worst. Times where the pastor not only did not know the deceased but also did not learn from family and friends the things that made that person unique. There have been others when high family tensions and deep impassible breaches kept people apart even in grief.
At its worst, a death leaves us even more divided from one another and more fearful of our own inevitable passing. At its best, that time opens the heavens for us and gives us hope.