Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Deadly Affair

I have just returned from having taken a funeral. It was unusually early: 8.00am. I always worry about being late for funerals or missing them for some reason. I actually dreamt last night that I had forgotten it and woke in a panic trying to work out what to do. It was some time before I realised it was only 5.00am and I had been dreaming. I know clergy who have forgotten they had a funeral and for them it has been a real nightmare!

Funerals here are very different to how they are in the UK. The funeral parlours are quite crude and brash and there is little sense of dignity. There are also all sorts of traditional customs attached to the funeral that take a while to get used to as a westerner.

One thing that happens here a lot, and which used to happen in the UK, but does so rarely now, is that people go the night before to view the body. Often the coffin will be left open for the service and the congregation will be invited during the service to walk round the coffin as a mark of last respect. Frequently, I am asked to be there when the body is put into the coffin. It can be quite strange, especially when you did not know the deceased. Strange, that is, that the first time you meet someone is when they are dead!

Death is not something I am good at. I can cope with other people's - I have to - but the death of others brings you up against the fact of your own. I have never understood those Christians who make light of death. I hate, HATE, that Henry Scott-Holland piece about death being 'nothing at all'. 'What is death but a negligible accident?' the poem asks. If death is nothing at all, a mere negligible accident, why did Christ have to die? And why was God raising him from the dead such a big thing? And why must Christ now reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet? The last enemy, still to be destroyed, says Paul is death.

Don't misunderstand me, I believe that the love of God is stronger than death, but death is still horrible. I don't want to die, but I accept it as inevitable fact of life, a consequence of sin, and something that will destroy me and all that I am. I will not slip away, I will be consumed by a powerful enemy. And I for one will 'not go gentle into that good night', but will indeed 'rage, rage against the dying of the light'. I know it will take a miracle to save and bring me back, what the Bible calls salvation and resurrection. At death, I will trust myself to him, trembling and afraid, but hopeful that 'he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day'.

Tonight, it is the Diocesan Synod. I often quote the saying, 'No-one on their death bed wishes they had spent more time in the office.' On my death bed, I am sure I won't wish I had spent more time at Synod meetings!

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