So, last Saturday morning, we held the funeral for Cheri’s mom. The sanctuary was nicely filled, perhaps the first time that full in many months, since the congregation has dwindled down to very few members, and rarely a new visitor. It’s odd that such a beautiful place of worship, built back in the 20s when so many churches across the country were built, would not be able to attract persons to come and worship, but so much of it seems to depend on inertia, and critical mass – even in Grafton, the churches that are growing are the ones who offer worship with meaningful, exciting music to praise God, and strong inviting preaching that opens the door for people to make a commitment and live stronger and more faithful lives, as they work and show love in their community. For years, this church has been a wonderful community of its own, but without any urgency of bringing in new people, and so finally, the ones that are left are faithful, but not motivated to open the doors and invite. It’s a sad reality, but one that is played out in thousands of churches across our country.
But not Saturday! Saturday saw the faithful, the friends, the friends of children, the cousins and other relatives, and the other farmers who have been part of Cheri’s folks’ lives for decades come and show their love. One of her nieces with a beautiful voice sang, and her favorite son-in-law offered the eulogy, and I think she would have been very happy with the service as a whole.
So – as I mentioned yesterday, we went downstairs afterwards to the fellowship hall, and, in the way it had been done for decades, shared a meal together, and lots of chatter and love. Finally, the hour came for us to end that time, and to head to the cemetery for the committal. Even though the service was at the Federated Church, the cemetery plots for Cheri’s folks were situated at the cemetery that held the three previous generations of Thompsons, adjacent to the country church, now closed except for special events in the year.
The casket had been loaded into the hearse, and the rest of us got into our cars, running to cool the inside down a bit – and don’t forget to turn on your headlights, as we were to make a 10 mile procession through the countryside, and fields full of crops on either side of the highway. It was so different from a couple of years before, when we played out the same kind of day, to bury my mother. She lived in Fort Worth, Texas, and so after the lunch at her church, we were told to just meet out at the cemetery on the north side of the city in about 45 minutes – there would have been no way to make a procession of cars through what was less than 10 miles, but full of urban traffic.
So, there we were, in our cars, cooled down, engines running – and nothing happened. I couldn’t see to the head of the line of cars, but there began to appear to have a bit of commotion, as one by one, the fellows in charge of the funeral were out of their vehicles and trying to solve something. Finally, the word drifted back to the procession line – the battery of the hearse was dead.
It was pretty ironic, just to say it out loud – “the hearse died.” We sat and chuckled, and thought what Cheri’s mom would have said over all this: Oh, for crying out loud! And laugh, in her almost uncontrollable laugh that she always brought to the room she was in. In a few moments, we saw the flash of jumper cables, and the look of failure on the part of the funeral directors. Apparently, their cables were too little and weak to have their van jump the hearse. Of course, someone had to comment that Cheri’s mom had always driven Chevrolets, and this was a Cadillac hearse, so…
As you would expect, however, living in a land that is dominated by pickup trucks – and monstrous pickups, that were built to tow all sorts of farm machinery, and pull things out of muddy fields, if need be – that before you knew it, there were two or three huge trucks, owned by grandsons and sons-in-law, that came to the rescue. They decided to use the use the big diesel truck with the double batteries, and the jumper cables meant to give life to dead batteries on tractors, and within a few more moments, we all experienced resurrection – or at least, resuscitation! The hearse roared to life, and was not turned off, even when we hit the cemetery…
We began the slow parade out of town, gathering up cars that were not paying attention to the headlights on, but who quickly darted left or right at the next intersection, so as to not have to go all the way in the country! We drove along, and realized we were on the same highway 17 that Cheri’s family had driven hundreds of thousands of times – past the beet piling station that would be buzzing with activity in another month, when sugar beet harvest began, and past the empty spot that used to hold the 4-mile school house (the country school, four miles out of town), and then we turned left, at country road 8, instead of right, up a mile to Cheri’s folks’ farm. Left took us to the cemetery, where we said our goodbyes again, and lavished each other with hugs, as a final goodbye.
It was sad, sure – but we also couldn’t help but smile as we reminded each other over and over again how funny it was that the hearse died that day, and it took the farmers to bring it back to life, just as it happens with every spring planting, after a winter of sleep.
Our lives go on today – Cheri is back at work, and after a nice cool-ish weekend, it will once again be blistering hot. We are “done” with the holy work of last week, but our memories will remain – even about a hearse – as we come to live a new reality without one that we loved, and who loved us. Stay aware of the world around you – be alert and intentional about what you see and what you experience. Let nothing be a distraction – if it grabs your attention, then be sure to attend to it, and then move back onto your journey, as you live in this world of grand surprise, and whimsy, and of love.
Word for the day: concatenation. Pronounced kon-cat-en-AY-shun. Doesn’t it sound Latin? Because it is. The word breaks down into con, meaning “with” and cantena which means “chain.” Concatenation simply means the state of being linked together, or more formally, a series of interconnected or interdependent things or events.
Life is full of concatenations – but only seen by those who are intentional in their actions and their observances. Otherwise, all of life is an accident. When I am aware however, I begin to see and appreciate the interconnectedness of almost all the world, and how it truly is under the hand and care of God.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.