WonderfulVicar is having his post-Christmas break at the moment (having, with his familiar generosity given me the pick of the time off, so that I didn't work from Christmas day lunchtime until 2nd January)..which has meant a busy week for me.
It began with 3 funerals, 1 of which has stayed with me in the days that followed.
You see, J seemed to have no-one, beyond the delightful couple who, as connections of her late husband, had befriended her after his sudden death, and had arranged the service.
J and her husband had, it appears, the sort of marriage that left no room for anyone else, and when he died she was almost completely isolated.
Since she had wished for burial in the parish cemetery, which has no chapel of its own, we met in church for her funeral - 3 mourners, the bearers and me. Earlier that day I had been part of a very different service in the crematorium chapel, filled to overflowing as we thanked God for someone whose family were as full ofgratitude as of grief...It seemed, really, that the venues should have been reversed. The church felt huge and empty and, even with the help of the bearers, the hymns sounded thin and disheartened. The friends who had "adopted" J knew nothing about her earlier life, and the past 10 years had seen increasing infirmity and confusion, so there was little to be said in the address, though I did my best with John Donne ("No man is an island...") and, for once had ample time to proclaim a Resurrection gospel.
And, as always, the liturgy did its work, carrying us through the processes of repentence, of thankfulness, commendation and farewell.
When I got home, though, LCM asked whether I'd have still tried to offer an address if there had been nobody there...The reality is, of course, that this just wouldn't happen.None of our funeral directors would leave the priest to conduct a service alone, and in the absence of anyone with the words to affirm the specific value of the life that has ended, it surely becomes even more important to affirm that ours is a God who notices when a sparrow falls...a God who has created us not for deadly oblivion but for joyous relationship with Him.
Each funeral, whatever the circumstance, is a witness to the love of God in a hard place...and goodness, the words of the liturgy are such a gift. Always, always they move us on...always, it seems to me, they bring with them the light of hope...and always it is such a privilege to carry that light, even in an empty church.