It is Easter Sunday evening. I’m writing in a hotel room while others sleep. Holy Week is over. Easter has come and gone. My family and I are on the way to my grandmother’s (Mor Mor we called her – it means mother’s mother in Swedish) funeral in Palos Heights, IL, a suburb of Chicago on Tuesday morning. She died early Palm Sunday morning.
While it has been an amazing week of worship at St. Michael’s since I heard the news of Mor Mor’s death, I want to think for a brief moment on what happens after Easter. I want to think about what happens after Easter because the dead still need burying. Those who mourn still need comforting. Those in the process of healing still need some caring. Those still feeling guilty still need forgiving. Those who feel lost still need some directing. In other words, it is back to business as usual.
Or is it?
What does it mean to hear the promises made at a funeral only two days after Easter? Well, I’ll soon find out. I hope what I hear is that in the midst of death – Jesus is risen. I hope my mom and uncle in particular, and the rest of the family as a whole are able to comfort one another with more than just the hugs of sadness, but also the peace that surpasses understanding. I hope my own health continues to strengthen and I hope my mom can get some rest. I hope anyone with regrets and remorse with unanswered conversations or opportunities missed can let them go. I hope in the midst of things we cannot understand. I hope stories are told. Stories create meaning, purpose and direction; and what is better when you are feeling lost, than well-articulated directions?
Funerals are times when we really discover what we believe. Do we rely on God or ourselves? Do we need control or can we let go? Are we people of dread or hope? Are we indifferent or is our faith seeking understanding? Do we live in the past or the future? Are we participating in a funeral to support others or to support ourselves? Or both? Or neither? Or don’t we know? Do we live in the here and now or are we talking about God (even if that chatter has more questions than answers)? These are but a few questions to get started. Perhaps you have better ones to ask than I do.
I believe that Easter does matter. I don’t believe for a second that there is such a thing as business as usual if we have been to the empty tomb. I believe that when someone dies, whether they were a child or the age of Methuselah the promises of God are just as valid and important for them as they are for those who remain. I believe there are no easy answers when it comes to death and dying, only compassion or cruelty. I believe that the most amazing miracle Christ ever does is not turning water into wine, or feeding five thousand or walking on water or healing the sick or casting out demons.
The greatest miracle from my perspective is that he uses us to his workers in this vineyard we call life. Imagine? The king of the universe – choosing us. I believe a little faithful irreverence goes a long way. I believe ritual is there to help. I believe we are all walking on the road to Emmaus. Jesus is walking with us, and our hearts are burning to hear more, and experience him closer than we ever realize.
One of my fondest memories of Mor Mor happened and still happens during Holy Week. When I was a child Mor Mor would come stay with us the Saturday before Palm Sunday and stay through Easter. The tradition she started was both faithful and irreverent, which is why I think I love it so much. Participating in worship at our church was always a big part of that week, but the highlight came on Good Friday. We went to worship. Then we went out for ice cream. It is probably not the most pious activity on Good Friday, but we still make sure we have ice cream stocked in the freezer come Good Friday. Every year as I enjoy it after I come home from church I think of her: especially this year. I don’t normally eat large quantities of ice cream. This year I had a second helping.
So as I sit here typing in the dark, considering my Mor Mor’s funeral Tuesday morning, I am at peace. That doesn’t mean I’ve grown soft or stopped asking questions. I have plenty. People often assume that pastors are answer people. Some certainly are. I’ve always stuck to the questions. Even in all the funerals I’ve ever led, I’ve found it more important to listen and respond than assert and dictate. Maybe that’s got more to do with my personality than anything else. But who knows? Maybe I’m onto something. Maybe God is up to something too.
I’m glad the doctor approved my ability to travel to the funeral. It would have been difficult not to be there for it, to go through the ritual, to stand with my family, to hear a word from God, to cry a little and hopefully laugh even more. Whatever happens after that I hope there is ice cream. Better yet I hope there is root beer too. I think after every visit to see Mor Mor, whoever was gathered would have a root beer float with her. She called it a “black cow.” I hope we have a black cow on Tuesday. Mor Mor would have enjoyed that.
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:51-58)