". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Light in the Darkness

I promised a few weeks ago to share a bit about my father-in-law's funeral. My father-in-law did not have a church affiliation when he died. In fact, he had little to say at all about matters of faith or his own relationship with God, a fact which has troubled the hearts of those who loved him. Ironic it is, then, that one of those troubled hearts was also the voice through which came the comfort of God's Word. For it was my husband--a church cantor, not a pastor--who officiated at his own father's funeral, serving as organist, liturgist, and homilist.

The funeral was held in a free-standing chapel at a Houston funeral home and cemetery. The assembly was small--just a few friends and family. When we entered the chapel and took our seat, my five-year-old's first question was, "Where are the hymnals?" (I guess you can tell he's Lutheran.) His next question, as he saw his father preparing to lead the service was, "Is Daddy going to be the pastor?" I responded, "Yes, honey, Daddy's going to be the pastor today" to which he replied, worried, "But I don't think Daddy knows how to be a pastor yet." (You can see he also has a proper respect for the office of the ministry.) I smiled and said, "Don't worry, honey; God will help him."

Evan also expressed concern when he realized his big brother would be assisting with the liturgy. ("But I don't think Trevor knows how to be a cantor yet.") Guess he has a healthy regard for church musicians, too! I assured him that Trevor had already had a lot of practice with the liturgy and would be just fine.

The service began with an invocation and the words of St. Paul: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:3-4)

Next came the hymn "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," followed by the Kyrie, Salutation and Collect. The Old Testament reading came from Isaiah:

"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." (55: 6-11)

Then followed Psalm 6, read by granddaughters Sophie and Caitlin:

"O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD—how long?
Turn, O LORD, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
The LORD has heard my plea;
the LORD accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment."

The epistle was Ephesians 2:1-10:

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

And the Gospel, Luke 23:26-43:

"And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?
"Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, 'He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!' The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, 'If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!' There was also an inscription over him, 'This is the King of the Jews.'
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, 'Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!' But the other rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.' And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' And he said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'

Then followed the Apostles' Creed, Homily, Hymn ("Jesus Loves Me"), Prayer of the Church, the Lord's Prayer, the Canticle of Commendation, the Benidicamus & Benediction, the Presentation of Colors, and the Dismissal. The Canticle of Commendation, a combination of John 11:25-26 ("I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die") and the Nunc Dimittis from Luke 2:29-32, the Song of Simeon, was sung in four-part harmony by my husband, oldest son, daughter, and myself:

"Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word.
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou has prepared before the face all all people.
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."

Fixated as I was on the hymnal while simultaneously trying to sing the alto line and maintain my composure, I did not notice what my husband and several others observed: that when we began the Gloria Patri (the final two lines above), the room suddenly became brighter as the sun chose that moment to break from behind the clouds and shine through the windows of the chapel. Coincidence? If you like. I think otherwise.

In my next post I'll share some of my husband's thoughts as he preached a homily of Law and Gospel that would make any Lutheran pastor nod in approval and that filled me with a wife's pride, a laywoman's awe, and a sinner's comfort.

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