Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The Sacramental Nature of Community
There was a funeral for a long-time member of St. Paul’s yesterday.
John. His name was John. He was 86 years old. Had been married for 58 years.
How do you sum up and celebrate 86 years of a life well lived?
That is a daunting question and an even more daunting liturgical task.
I think the answer is this: community.
This man’s funeral – as so many of the liturgies, big and small, but especially the important events in the life cycle of a community – was an absolute marvel of community at work.
The Altar Guild polished the sliver to a fair-thee-well. They made certain that there was enough bread and wine – with back up of consecrated hosts, just in case.
The Flower Guild absolutely outdid themselves with a gorgeous arrangement at the altar and two tastefully done arrangements in front of the lecturn and the pulpit.
The Sexton made certain that the carpets were clean, the Parish Hall was set up to the caterer’s specification, the front outside steps and walkways were swept, the furniture was polished and all the windows and glass areas were sparkling.
One of the Vestry members lurked about in the Parish Hall, coordinating with the caterer and helping friends and relatives to feel welcome and comfortable.
The soloist, a former member of the choir who has had to take an LOA to work on a project, sang the Ave Maria and the Gospel Alleluia’s like a very angel.
Our new organist is an excellent performer, but even more than that, he understands liturgy – and his role in it. And, he’s not even Episcopalian (hmmm . . . perhaps that’s why?)
The Parish Administrator did a fantastic, professional job with the bulletin – not one typo and all the pages were centered – and ran off the front cover with a color picture of John from the office printer. By hand. Ten copies at a time.
The (transitional) deacon was fully present, lurking tastefully about, tending quietly and unassumingly, and was absolutely indispensable to catching the details. He also read the gospel with clarity and meaning and tended to the Table with competence.
The altar party – Crucifer, two Torch Bearers and three of the visiting clergy, all former rectors or assistants – performed as if they had worked together for years.
The man who functions as my unofficial verger was indispensable. He came in early to polish the candles sticks and candelabras, made certain that the 'family pews' had water and tissues, and helped to coordinate the altar party.
The four ushers were dressed to the nines, greeting people, handing out service booklets, helping people to find a seat, and “directing traffic” to the altar at communion.
The two Eulogists were simply magnificent. Appropriately humorous. Heartfelt. Sincere. Clear and Concise. They summed up two very different aspects of the man’s life in ways I could never have done.
Two members of the family did “parking lot duty” – they were out in the parking lot, greeting people as they came in and helping late arrivers find alternative parking when our lot became full.
I have discovered that the more I give away, the more I receive. The more I learn to coordinate and not “do,” the better the quality of the service.
Liturgy is the work of the people and liturgy is at its best when the people do the work they do best.
There is a sacramental nature to community - it is an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace of God. It is a deep mystery to me, revealing something about the nature of God as revealed in the work of the people.
At the end of the day, and the beginning of another, I know this much to be true: The life of our dear friend John was honored and God was glorified.
You know, it just doesn’t get much better than that.