Today our church mustered its forces to help out one of our members. His extended family lost a young man who was in a Special Forces unit in Afganistan. So folks baked, cooked, and brought food together to help with a small reception which took place after the funeral at Arlington.
So I ironed my shirt, put on my funeral suit and helped put together trays of fruit and cookies and cheese and stuff. It was strange to be so close to such grief, and yet to be distant enough from it to not really feel it. Every other funeral I’ve attended has been for someone who I knew.
Still, the most meaningful part of the day was spent in my kitchen, cutting up a bunch of melon, and taking part in the age-old church tradition of helping a family through their grief. I thought a lot about my grandmother, who– along with many other women in her church–did this regularly for the families of the church. She would make cookies, or desserts, or fruit trays. And she would make those little sandwiches with the crusts cut off. All of us grandkids despised bread crusts, and so we would often beg her to cut the crusts off of our sandwiches, but she would always cheerfully decline. So she taught us that loss and grief are to be met with gentleness and compassion, even if it is only the unspoken kindness of crustless sandwiches.
But today, I wondered if this gospel work– this mourning with those who mourn and this bearing the burdens of your brother and sister– isn’t a kind of sacrament, as well. A way to slowly and gradually move yourself toward an acceptance of your own mortality. For surely you begin such a committment as a relatively young person, and all of the funerals are for the grandparents of your friends. But then the relationships become closer and closer, as uncles and aunts and parents pass away. Until you observe the deaths of some of your dear friends, perhaps even serving their families. Or maybe your own health fails, and you can no longer perform this act of worship and service. Finally, you yourself come to the end of your days, and some person just like you puts knife to cutting board, and hand to dough, and coffee to pot. And so it goes, Amen.
Today, I remembered my grandmother’s funeral, too. I couldn’t quite remember what was said at her funeral (including the things I said). But I remember the plates of sweets, and the little sandwiches without crusts. And I remember going to the corner of the room, where I looked behind the fabric partition and gave a tearful smile to the little old ladies tottering around on high heels, and I thanked them.