There is a unique blessing that comes in leading a service for when someone passes away. As a pastor, I am able to be there for a family who is grieving a loss and am able to by deed and by word seek to proclaim hope in the midst. Some of the services, while grieving in the midst, are celebrations of life – someone who has lived a long and full life. Others are more difficult – the loss of a child for example. No service is “easy” by any means – grief and loss are present regardless of whether the one who has died is 9 or 99.
I led a graveside service this morning for a man I had met only a few times – a few times in passing and the last time the day before he died when I blessed him on his final steps to the Lord. He was the father of one our church’s members. He was a WW2 veteran who served in Patton’s army in Europe and was held as a POW for over 14 months before being liberated. He worked as a local pharmacist for his career after the army and sounded to be a wonderful man and a wonderful father and husband (his wife passed away about 8 years ago). The service started in a cold, drizzly, breezy rain that was just uncomfortable for all involved. But something really unique happened. A friend of the family sang a song at one point in the service that was entitled “The Old Churchyard.” It was a stunning gift that she shared in this service. (full lyrics and video are below).
But toward the end of the song, there is a line that says “I rest in the hope that one bright day // Sunshine will burst to these prisons of clay // And old Gabriel’s trumpet and the voice of the Lord // Will wake up the dead in the old churchyard.
Just as she sang this, the sun started to peek out and the breeze died down and the rain slowed. Now, I don’t necessary believe that because she sang those words that the weather changed, but there was a remarkable beauty about the timing of it all and the “divine coincidence.” I took this picture as I was leaving the cemetery where the clouds were nearly out of the way of the sun, the blue skies were shining brightly, and the rays of the sun warming what had been a cold dreary day.
That is how I feel about the hope that we have in Jesus the Christ. Yes there are times of clouds and rain and grief and loss. But in the midst we have the promises that can bring hope, comfort, and warmth. Advent is like that kind of experience – a time of waiting for the hope to be revealed…only a few days left.
The Old Churchyard
Come, come with me out to the old churchyard,
I so well know those paths ‘neath the soft green sward.
Friends slumber in there that we want to regard;
We will trace out their names in the old churchyard.
Mourn not for them, their trials are o’er,
And why weep for those who will weep no more?
For sweet is their sleep, though cold and hard
Their pillows may be in the old churchyard.
I know that it’s vain when our friends depart
To breathe kind words to a broken heart;
And I know that the joy of life is marred
When we follow lost friends to the old churchyard.
But were I at rest ‘neath yonder tree,
Oh, why would you weep, my friends, for me?
I’m so weary, so wayworn, why would you retard
The peace I seek in the old churchyard?
Why weep for me, for I’m anxious to go
To that haven of rest where no tears ever flow;
And I fear not to enter that dark lonely tomb
Where our saviour has lain and conquered the gloom.
I rest in the hope that one bright day
Sunshine will burst to these prisons of clay,
And old Gabriel’s trumpet and voice of the Lord
Will wake up the dead in the old churchyard.