We don’t use phrases like this anymore.
“Jacob…breathed his last and was gathered to his people.”Genesis 49:33
As I read this verse from Genesis 49, it feels very much like Jacob’s relatives are there welcoming him with open and inviting arms. This same description is used at the deaths of Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Aaron, and Moses. A similar phrase is used when God is speaking to Abram.
One of the things I have come to love about practices of many other cultures is a deep sense of reverence for ancestors. Some refer to it as “ancestor worship” but, to me, it is much more a remembrance that we are still connected to those who have come before us. They are still a part of us and we are still a part of them.
This afternoon, I have been working on pieces of a funeral service that I will be sharing for a man from our congregation who passed away last Friday. I spent time with his family yesterday as they shared memories, stories, and their experiences of their husband and father. As they shared, I found myself remembering my grandparents (two of whom are in the photo on the left – two of my wife’s grandparents are on the right) and the ways in which they have been and still are a part of my life. Every time I take a photograph, it connects me back to my photographer grandfather. Every time I see a teddy bear, I am reminded of my grandmother’s teddy bear collection. Each Christmas, my family shares a Polish communion-type bread called Oplatki, connecting us back to my other set of grandparents and their Polish heritage. My wife can share similar connections to her grandparents.
Years ago, they were gathered to their people and one day I will be gathered to my people, including them. That is a comfort and a hope and a truth to which I hold dearly.