At the service of Death and Resurrection for Frenia Cerny this past Monday I had two first time experiences, the first was great the second not so much. The first was that we took advantage of the newly widened aisles in the sanctuary to process in with the casket. This is an old tradition that we are going to attempt to recover on a regular basis. I went first holding a Bible and representing the church, symbolizing the promises and faithfulness of God even in the midst of death; then came the casket (the pall bearers did not walk along side, but I think that would be a further improvement); the family then followed the casket. We always ask the gathered congregation to stand at the beginning of a funeral service, but it made a lot more sense to actually stand to honor the entry of the deceased, much like we stand to honor the entrance of the bride at the wedding. That was great and with the modification of placing the casket at the back of the sanctuary before the service for those who wish to say goodbye, it is a pattern we hope to make the norm.*
The second experience was that I was left behind when the funeral procession left the church for the cemetery. After a service of Death and Resurrection, I have to give my condolences to the grieving, switch from my robe to a suit jacket, get a glass of water for the road, make sure I have The Book of Worship, a printed copy of the service in my suit pocket, and our Kindle (my preferred method of reading the service in a sunny, windswept cemetery), check to make sure the doors were locked or would be locked, turn off the projector and the sound system, retract the screen (Jenny, the sound system operator for the service, had already left to pick up Liz after school), and visit the little preacher’s room. Normally there is, somewhat surprisingly, plenty of time for all of this and then I find myself still sitting in the car for a few minutes before the procession begins.
Not Monday however, I came out the front door to find the final cars in the procession disappearing from view and my car all alone in front of the church. The procession had left me behind. I thought to myself, “well, at least they won’t start without me” and then I thought “no, they just might.” I rushed to the car and drove, checked the service booklet to make sure I was headed to the right cemetery and drove as fast as the law would allow down 11th Street to outflank the procession. It worked. By the time the procession arrived at the cemetery, I was there, waiting by the grave. That’s something I hope won’t happen again.
*Please note: I said “the norm,” not the inviolate rule, we do our best to accomodate the preferences of individual families. The advantage of having the casket open at the back of the sanctuary before the service, is that it gives those who would like to pay their respects a modicum of privacy. When the open casket is at the front of the sanctuary, respects must be paid in front of everyone who has been seated.