Virtually every day in our community, and sometimes several times a day, we see an ancient ritual happen before our eyes. The questions I ask are: Do we see it? Do we honor it? Does it make us stop and reflect?
We join the rest of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Rust Belt as a “graying,” aging demographic. Deaths outnumber our births. We experience this in the number of funerals we have, nearly every day, often several times a day.
The funeral culture is changing, like many aspects of our society. There are cremations and there are deaths without a service of any kind. Still, we frequently see the time-honored funeral procession taking the body of someone who has died to its place of rest.
Clergy frequently travel in these processions. Often – and I do say often – people hurry to get in front of the procession when they see it coming ahead of them. Quick turns are made, if necessary, and sometimes red stop lights are ignored. Also, procession lines are interrupted by travelers who would rather get in line and break up the procession than wait a few minutes. Mind you, very few processions are really that lengthy. There aren’t that many people who come to the funeral and join in that final tribute. So, the procession passes by in about two minutes, literally.
Unsafe and dangerous decisions are made which disregard the safety of all involved. Intersections and narrow roadways make for pretty scary moments. All of this in spite of flashing lights, flags on the cars marking their purpose and, of course, the careful pace of the procession.
Some years back I was part of a unique funeral procession. A state policeman was being honored and taken to the cemetery. It was remarkably different to see motorists’ response to a procession that involved countless police vehicles. People stopped. They pulled their cars out of the way, even onto the berm on the opposite side of the road. And, the puzzled expressions on those who saw only the tail end of the procession were precious – they saw dozens of police cars but did not know there was a hearse at the front end of this long line.
Do we really see what’s happening when we come upon a funeral procession? The loss of the life of a fellow human being should catch our attention, any time, every time. The car lineup is not a parade. Inside these cars are people in mourning, sometimes terribly so. Do we see that this is not just a traffic nuisance to be overcome?
Do we honor what’s happening? A member of our community is being posthumously honored. We are a small enough community that this person likely had some impact on your life. This funeral procession should help us honor a life that has been lost.
From a deeper point of view, do we stop and reflect? This person’s death is a reminder of our own mortality. This is an opportunity to ponder my own respect for life – anyone’s life. From the Christian perspective, he or she was the face of Christ Jesus in this world. A moment of silence and a moment of patience recognizes their contributions to this world. I might consider saying a prayer of thanksgiving for their life, or a prayer for their eternal salvation or a prayer for those who miss them. The safety and well-being of every person in this procession needs to be a concern to me, a fellow citizen who happens upon this significant event.
May we never come to a point where we fail to recognize this final tribute and all that it represents.
Almost every day, one of the cemeteries of our community opens its gates to bring in a family who is saying good-bye to a loved one. This after several days of preparing, going through visiting hours, a service of some kind and, lastly, a final drive through the community they call “home.”
Can we show them that we care? Can we show them respect? Can we show them for one last moment that we, too, took time out for them?
The Rev. Jeffery J. Noble is pastor of Church of Notre Dame, Hermitage.