Dear Grace Community,
In his book, As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner tells the story of the Bundren family. Addie Bundren, wife and mother, dies, and the family must transport her body from their home to its burial place. They plod across Mississippi with Addie’s casket in the back of their wagon. It is a punishing journey. At one point they cross a river, and catastrophe ensues. The casket floats away, living bones are broken, and whatever pride was left is lost. While fraught with disaster, at its core, the Bundren’s journey is a familiar ritual, that of moving from death to burial.
The Bundren family needed someone to help them ford that river. Today when families are faced with death there is figurative water they do not know how to cross. My role is to help them. Others might be able to lead the grieving so far, but when it comes to crossing the water, it is my job to offer a steady hand.
This year as we approach All Saints Sunday onNovember 1, I decided to share this metaphor with you as it informs how I approach death, funerals, and memorial services as your pastor. I am the one who stands in the water. Standing in the water is not for the faint of heart, but it’s what I was called to and trained for. In time I’ve learned how to bend my knees at the right moment so the current doesn’t overwhelm me, though I still get wet and weary sometimes.
In five years at Grace I’ve led more than fifty funeral or memorial services. Each time I find myself, pants rolled up, wading into the waters of grief, holding out my hand, and helping to guide people to the other shore. This means being with them after a loved one dies, making service plans, and leading a service that both witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection and honors the one who died.
I cannot carry someone through the water. I cannot make the journey from death to the grave easy. It is hard work, and work that must be done by those grieving. My role is to guide them as they carry their loved one.
When a family makes it across the water, I don’t keep going with them. I stay by the water’s edge, which can be hard for others to understand. It’s not that I don’t want to go with them; it’s that I know there will soon be another family coming to ford the river. It may not be the next day or week, but soon someone else in our community will die, and there are others who can walk with a family beyond the shore: friends, family, neighbors.
On November 1, we say aloud the names of saints who are no longer with us. I give thanks for those people I’ve been privileged to know, to love, and to serve as their pastor. In our tradition, saints are not only the dead but the living, and so I give thanks for you who serve as witnesses and inspire me in my faith. It is my privilege to be your pastor.