My best friend from seminary has a chore ahead this week. A funeral. Now he is very good at doing funerals in a way that is faithful and dignified. But he has an odd sort of family that he is dealing with. They do not like the words "remember" or "remembrance" having a (strange) notion that these are negative words. So they want him to do the service without using such words. They say that want it to be a "celebration".
Well, yes, we do celebrate when a faithful person has entered the Church Triumphant. And our faith does keep us strong in times of sadness or mourning. But that being said, the family in question are not sad at all, and don't want the service to be sad, and don't want any hint of sorrow or grief to impinge. They say that want it to be a "celebration".
This is how my friend relates it:
The whole family seems to be big on acting as if there is no sorrow here in this death but everything must be upbeat and cheerful. So, when I said that members of the family were welcome to offer some words of remembrance at the service, the (adult) daughter piped up and said, “I wish you could not use that word ‘remembrance.” I think we should use the word “celebration.” We want to celebrate my father’s life." I restrained myself and did not try to tell her that really, it would be impossible to celebrate her father’s life without remembering since no one can say anything about anything that is even one second ago without remembering. But what’s the use?
Exactly. What's the use?
So what is a pastor to do when it comes to the "remarks" that one is called to make, whether we call them a homily or message or eulogy? How does one "remember" the deceased without using the word "remember"? With tongue completely in cheek, I offered my friend some suggestions...
Can we use “remember” synonyms, perhaps? Interspersed with a few “celebrates? Notice I never say “remember”….
We recall dear daddies’ way of tiptoeing in after midnight with his shoes in his hand and lipstick on his collar, and celebrate how he could step right over Fido without ever waking him up. We bring to mind again the time he outran the police by driving down the courthouse stairs, and celebrate that he only got two years probation. What a droll fellow he was! We consider again that his way with a deck of cards could have earned him a place in the Vegas hall of fame, and celebrate that while he went through most of his money, there is just enough to bury him today, and have an nice lunch at the club afterwards. We think about his other secret family over in Jersey anew and the happy life they had with him every other weekend. Wish they could be here with us we would give them a piece of our mind, but in a nice way, bless their hearts! We have an idea of the way he could palm a twenty and no one ever noticed it and celebrate that that is what kept us in blue jeans and pork and beans through all those lean years as we were growing up. Some of us have learned his skill and we celebrate it today. We keep an image of him in sitting right here in the church; both times that he managed to drag himself though the doorway, between his baptism and today—and we celebrate that he gave God a nod now and then when he thought of it. And then there was that time he over turned the outhouse with Mrs. Snyder inside… it sure makes us smile.
Does that give you enough for rounding out the “celebration”?
Pastors could write volumes about the wild, weird and wacky things that are said to them, or that they are asked or expected to do that are often the complete opposite of what the Bible (or common sense, or etiquette, or wisdom) tells them so. But we pastors mostly keep mum and only talk to one another about it saying, "You won't believe this one..." And the funny thing is, the odd stuff keeps on coming, day after day. Like wave after wave, upon the seashore of life.
Never a dull moment in ministry I always say. Fifteen minutes of boredom now and then might provide some relief. But we stick with comic relief instead. Levity, always levity...
If you wonder why your pastor is smiling... Now you know.
Have a great day.
In fact, why not "celebrate" it!