OK...that's the three funerals accomplished, each with quite a different "feel" to them, but none of them awful at all. My thanks to those who were praying specially for the service for the lady without family: it was really rather beautiful, as the neighbours turned out in force, some taking time off work to be there. In the address I'd used the anagolgy of a jigsaw, as I was very conscious that I knew only a few fragments of her life's story, and that only God could now put the pieces together into the perfect picture that he had always intended...but it felt as if all of us there were piecing together a puzzle, too, bringing tiny gestures of caring which, through the grace of God, added up to something infinitely more positive and hopeful than I had dared to imagine. Even the singing went well, as one of the neighbours added a strong and pleasing alto line, and a surprise second-cousin-by-marriage sang tenor.
It intrigued me that in a culture where death is increasingly private, hidden away, it took the death of this most reclusive lady (one of those sad situations where only the build up of milkbottles on the doorstep alerted people to a problem) to engage the community in a way that was taken for granted in the nineteenth century. Indeed, the farewells for this very private person became public property, thanks to a genuine anxiety that her passing might seem to be ignored. It fell to me, someone who'd never met her at all, to assert her unique value as a child of God...and in so doing to reassure the rest of us too. When there are few memories, and fewer relationships to recollect, you become more than ever aware of the strength of the liturgy itself. During the diaconal ordination retreat we were promised that we would be given "words of power", and it was a gift I valued so much today.
Now, I've a couple of visits to make and then I really must apply myself to thinking through tomorrow's wedding and finding something inspiring to say on 1 Cor 13. After that it's only a 2 Eucharists and a Baptism, and last but not least my old friend Choral Evensong..and then it's just 2 days till the vicar gets home. Every now and then I remember that this time last year I was worried about being underused...oh, the innocence of youth!