Thursday, September 05, 2013

a funeral and a wedding

First course at the wedding feast I attended
Dean and I just returned from a brief vacation in Manitoba. My nephew was getting married so the plan was to fly out the week before the big celebration and spend some time relaxing and hanging out with family and friends.  But things changed.  In the middle of the week we flew back to Montreal to attend the funeral of a dear friend.

When I arrived at the funeral, I wasn't sure what to expect.  Because our friend had moved away a few years ago, we had not had much contact with him recently. I wondered if the end had been painful, wrenching, heartbreaking. And because he was so young, I assumed that a sense of premature loss would permeate much of the atmosphere. I was wrong.  His family set a tone of peaceful, restrained celebration. His mother told me the story of his brave last days when courage overcame pain and hope outshone disappointment.  She told of the final chapter of his life when clarity, revelation, and surrender guided him to make some tough decisions in order to calibrate his life more closely to his saviour, Jesus. Together we rejoiced in a life lived with a sense of adventure. We celebrated the hope that death is not the final goodbye. We sang loud songs of joy and beauty. We laughed and cried and recounted amusing anecdotes. I was privileged to say a few words, so I spoke about his unique gift of making extraordinary friends, his ability to make people feel special, and his determination that we should all be our best selves.  A few of us went out to dinner that night and raised a glass to our friend, our brother, the one who went down the path before us. The day left me with a sense of closure, a certain satisfaction and contentment in the remarkable story this short life told.

The wedding ceremony three days later had some of the same mix of emotions as I experienced at the funeral. There was drama as the hot, sunny day changed moment by moment due to a passing weather system which caused the clouds to swirl around us.  During the song "How Great Thou Art" we all heard the rolling thunder, and light rain began to sprinkle on the assembled guests as the pastor gave a brief homily. By the time the papers were signed and the officiant was ready to announce the newly married couple, a strong gust of wind was blowing, the air was about ten degrees cooler, and the grey clouds were racing across the sky, an ever-changing canvas. The evening continued under a tent in the park where we ate, talked, laughed, danced, and celebrated in the glow of love.

People at funerals often ponder the question why?  Why was this life cut short? Why was there so much suffering? Why did things turn out this way?  Why didn't God heal? These questions cannot be answered from our limited perspective and honestly, I believe they are not all that helpful because they can end in hopelessness. Perhaps the more appropriate (and answerable) question would be what? What is suffering about? What does healing look like? What can death teach us? Like a two-year-old, we sometimes tend to jump to the question of why? before we really know much about the subject matter (the what?). It seems presumptuous to ask why God does not heal when I have spent little time exploring the grand Healer's invitation to wholeness. It seems presumptuous to ask why a life was cut short when I have spent little energy investigating the impact of choices in my own life and the world around me. It seems presumptuous to ask why there is suffering when I have not sat with those who suffer and learned from them.

It is interesting to observe that we seldom ask the question why? at weddings. Though we don't really know what attracts one person to another, or how the phenomenon of love causes us to become irrationally selfless, or how the journey of two people will end after their vows, we never really ask why?  We just join in the party, almost blindly optimistic, sure that there is a bright and promising future ahead for them. And this strikes me as being quite similar to a funeral for one whose hope is in Christ. We don't need to answer the question of why? We are simply invited, as part of the larger community of Jesus followers, to join in a grand hope for a bright tomorrow, to anticipate the ultimate wedding feast, and to let faith, hope, and above all, love, carry us forward.

On Wednesday I was speaking at a funeral and three days later I was dancing at a wedding. A striking picture of death and resurrection that I will not soon forget.

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