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The Compassion of Jesus Makes a Funeral a Celebration

When I was in the 5th grade and we lived above the funeral home in Pawnee, there was no street celebration, no brass band or snare drum or festive umbrellas but the funeral for Rev Sonious’ wife was something to behold. Just months before she died, Mrs. Sonious had been at our house talking about the perfect bill of health she had just received from her doctor. Who knew the tumor would grow so fast and that she would die so quickly? We were all shocked by the news when it came, especially we 5th grade classmates of the Sonious’ son, Jim.

The day of the funeral a quiet crowd packed the Davis Memorial Home. The whole funeral felt wrong, somehow. Friends’ parents weren’t so supposed to die...especially fun-loving parents like Jim’s mom. They all entered the funeral home sad, grieving, weighed down with disbelief.

After saying a few words, Rev. Sonoius told us what his wife had requested. "She wanted us to sing hymns," he said, "lots and lots of hymns at her funeral." The pianist, Mrs. Dickey, began to play.

As we began tentatively singing "Holy, Holy, Holy," we looked around at each other. This just wasn’t the thing that was done in our little town at a funeral. By the end of the introduction to "Blessed Assurance," we realized that this hymn sing wasn’t a joke and resigned ourselves to singing. By the time we got to the refrain of "How Great Thou Art," we were singing our hearts out. And as the final chord of "Amazing Grace" died away, I think we actually had experienced some.

Well…. most of us. At the grocery store the next day, I overheard two women talking about the unconventional funeral in "Well-I-never!" kinds of tones.

As a 5th grader, Mrs. Sonious funeral and the comments of those women in the grocery store aisle taught me a lot about grace. Grace comes spontaneously……often at the least expected of times. We can’t earn it. We can’t work for it. We can’t plead for it. It just comes. What we can do is choose whether to receive it or reject it.

We can sing with our arms crossed and our teeth clenched or we can sing with our mouths and our hearts wide open. We can keep the drum muted or we can let loose with a tune to make the angels dance. We can keep our umbrellas closed or we can shoot them open in a burst of color and joy. When Jesus comes with compassion in his eyes, we can wrap our funeral clothes tightly around us or we can change into our comfortable clothes and celebrate….the choice is ours. The choice is always ours.

From a sermon by Richard Jumper, The Nain Procession to Party, 6/5/2010

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