The church had been full, and all had gone smoothly.
E was a local man, who had never moved far away, though he had seen wartime service across the world and had been an enthusiastic supporter of any and all reunions that reconnected him with hig golden age. In their turn, friends, neighbours and old comrades had come to support his widow, and to say their own farewells. The widow, frail but determined, had coped well with the service, but had chosen not to attend the committal, which followed at the crematorium.
The funeral director had assumed I would not be attending either, but I have never forgotten the lecturer at vicar-school who told us
"From the moment the body arrives, it is your responsibility. Whatever else is going on, that is your primary committment"
His words had challenged me during one particularly sad and dramatic funeral last month, but generally I'm pretty clear that this is non negotiable, so there's no question about my not attending committals, even when the family prefer not to.
This time was different, though.
Whether they were making a point, or just had other plans, the bearers withdrew as soon as they had placed the coffin on the cataphalque.
The organist at the back of the chapel seemed, as quite often, to be in a separate world as I launched into Common Worship text
"The Lord is full of compassionand mercy, Slow to anger and of great goodness..."
To whom was I speaking?
Both God and the departed presumably knew this for themselves...
I hear the words, as I read them usually, as one further reassurance to those left behind - but this time they were not there to hear.
Sometimes, of course, prayer can feel akin to whistling in the dark - but proclaiming into a void is something quite different and rather strange.
Even the words of commital seemed to be simply stating the obvious.
Remembering, commending and entrusting had taken place. Now all there was to be done was a simple act, simply described...Perhaps I should have stayed silent, - but that would have given rise to more insistent questions as to why it mattered for me to be there at all.
Methinks I need to find something else to say for these occasions, though I hope they won't become the norm. I've never fully answered the familiar question "Who is a funeral for?" and it becomes pressing in a different way when the priest is the only living soul there...