It’s probably not surprising that ministers and funeral directors cross paths a lot. I guess it’s probably like produce growers and chefs, or teachers and crossing guards. We’re often in the same place at the same time. Though I’m admittedly painting with a very broad brush here, in my experience, funeral directors are often deeply compassionate, caring, and empathetic people who view their work as a calling. Day in and day out they sit with people in their deepest hour of grief and pain. I love to ask them about how they got into their line of work, what they most enjoy about it and what they think I can do to help families in my congregation when they are dealing with fresh grief. Time and again, they mention the importance of ritual or symbolism: placing a flower on the grave, placing a stone there, pouring sand over the casket. It’s important, it seems, to do something at that moment, to mark it, to honor it, to make sure it doesn’t just pass by like any other day. One funeral director recently told me about one of the funeral rituals she finds truly meaningful “I don’t know what all of it means,” she said, “But I know that at the end, they come up and everybody shovels three shovels full of dirt onto the grave and then they put the shovel back in the ground. They do that because…” and she stopped and swallowed hard and blinked her eyes quickly and then said, voice cracking “They do that because you’re not supposed to pass your grief on to anybody else” and then she put her head down and let the tears roll down her cheeks for just a second before she wiped them away quickly. “Anyway,” she said “It’s really special.”
Note: Because of the way I preach (sort of a strange hybrid of written manuscript and notes) I can’t really reproduce my sermons on this blog. This post was originally part of a sermon I preached at Northwood, just like this one and this one and this one. I like taking a piece of a sermon I’ve already preached, thinking about it and telling it in a different way. I’m going to plan to do it from time to time, and when I do, I’ll call it “Sermon Remix” so my parishioners at Northwood can start to get used to finding these reflections in this way. Hope you enjoy!