Sunday, June 24, 2018

An Island Funeral

I love a good funeral.

First of all, they are So. Much. Easier. than most weddings. With weddings - yes, you have the beautiful celebration of love, the hopeful unfolding of two souls journeying through life together and all that that may bring (at whatever stage of life the bridge and groom are at). But they can also be full of stress and anxiety as the couple (or others) projects their expectation of perfection upon the day, from the flowers to the cake to the flawless ceremony. Weddings are beautiful, yes; sacred, yes, but can also be stressful.

Funerals, on the other hand, especially in a place like Chebeague, are sacred and transcendent; a place where the entire community gathers time after time to witness to life. On the one hand, it's a gathering to remember a physical, concrete life of an islander with family, friends and neighbors who are grieving; on the other hand, it's saying goodbye to a way of life that is slipping through our fingers (more slowly here than in most places, thanks be to God).

Today, Chebeague buried another saint - Joan Robinson. I have gotten to know her over three years and in that time, have walked with her through some dark and difficult times, have shared with her our son Michael and seen her delight in him (even when he would steal her cane repeatedly during Whalers' rehearsals), and witnessed her faith in action. I will miss her dearly, and I know my son will too (already when we talk about visiting the Commons, the assisted living facility on the island, he wants to see Joanie).

But even more than this sacred time of storytelling, this communal grief-sharing, this time of thanksgiving that she rests healed and whole in God's presence was the beauty of community coming together to participate in the unfolding of this wondrous remembrance. Flowers from the gardens of community members - and from the Inn, who gave the church the flowers of the wedding that happened on their grounds yesterday. The Ladies Aid pulling out all the stops, marshaling everyone at their disposal for food, setup, cleanup, logistics - everything relating with the reception, and pulling it off with seamless effortlessness, even though I knew how much behind-the-scenes work it took to make it happen. The slideshow of pictures of Joanie that rotated before the service began (late, of course, because so Joan was in life, so she was in death). The sound system and rain-contingency plan that we had in place for church-overflow (although I should have known that Joanie would not have let it rain on the day of her burial...again, so she was in life, so she was in death). The straightening of the pews and hymnals and programs and all those little details that people knew needed to be done and that I didn't even have to ask about. Making the bus between the stone pier and the church happen. The serendipity of Joan's casket being in the chancel and right behind her was the altar given in memory of her grandmother. The Bible, that suddenly appeared with flowers on the altar, that she had signed and given to one of her Sunday School students when she was Superintendent over 50 years ago. The song that her "favorite nephew living in Bangor" had written and performed for us. The stories shared from drives around the island to inaugurations to welcoming in children to humorous breast cancer screening "what is love" and to daily phone conversations with your dearest friend that happened every single morning...I am constantly overwhelmed by the amazing beauty of this island that comes together when it matters most, and I am humbled that I am able to be in that space with them, to walk with them in those deep, sacred places, and that I can bear witness to how God is so present in those moments, it makes me want to weep with joy.

Ultimately, that was the message I took away from this afternoon's remembrance: Joy. Deep joy - and trust in the One who is the Source of that Joy. I love seeing the community - and I mean the whole community - gather together, funeral after funeral, and watching how they show up for each other and remember those who have passed and be there for those who are still living. I am incredibly blessed to be living here in this place, and I am incredibly blessed to be able to be present to these moments of mourning and celebration, of remembering and thanksgiving.

Joanie's service was a hard one, because she is the first funeral that I've done where I've really had the blessing of getting to know her and her story personally. A few others I've done here have also been hard - some through personal connection and a couple through circumstance - but Joan's was more personal because of that relationship in church and in Whalers and how she let me in to some of the more difficult places in her life. I will be forever grateful for that.

God bless you, Joanie. We'll miss you here...but as we all know down here, we know you're up there...and we know who's calling the shots now.

(For an adorable video of Joan reading to Michael on his first birthday, click here).