I hugged Jeanette in the funeral home hallway. She said, “God gives and takes away, but it’s so very hard.” Her husband Doug was in the bathroom. I asked her how he was, she said, “Not too bad, he knows something’s happened, but he says outrageous things sometimes.” He came out and I said, “Hi Doug.” Doug said, “Hi Hansome”, and I remembered Jeanette’s words. Jeanette then introduced me to the man I had worked beside at Hope Mission for over ten years. Doug and I shook hands.
I made my way to a chapel pew and waited through organ and piano solos for the service to start. I recognized some Enya.
Why did I feel so uncomfortable while the pastor gave his sermon? It was, after all, Doug and Janet Green’s pastor and he was speaking at the funeral of their forty-some year old son Donald.
For all the pastorâ€™s references to time in this life being fleeting, it sure wasn’t when he got hold of it. No bombast, just slow steady sermonizing.
And then I sat there asking myself where my gracelessness came from? But I couldn’t help it. The principle text was the Lazarus story…and how Christ said, he was dead…yet he lives. So the refrain was that Don was dead, yet he lives. It’s a comforting Christian belief. But the repetition that was employed reads almost like an evasion of death, no real allowance or time to grieve through it.
So the well-meaning pastor spoke theology. Dragged out proof texts about everlasting life. About how to get. And how important it is to think about it on a day like this. And there were life-is-precious proof texts, life-is-fragile proof texts…and always the hanging explication that a time like this should remind us of life’s precious and fragile nature etc. All beautiful texts handled pedantically.
The best moment in the sermon was while the pastor paraphrased a Psalm. “The grass is green but it withers and dies.”, at which time Doug piped up and said, “Hey, my name is Green!” Iâ€™m sure he would have said more except for the embarrassed shushes.
No embarrassment necessary. However I imagine the pastor was relieved to hear the shushes. You can’t have old men with Alzheimerâ€™s taking coherent runs at a good Plymouth Brethren sermon. Not when the stakes are this high and you’ve got a chapel full of pagans. But then I imagine him reprimanding himself for playing fast and loose with the Psalm. There’s no “green” in it, as far as I recall, just “grass”.
But thank God for genuine human moments. A truer form of theology. The family spoke of Don’s life, of their memories. Spoke wonderfully, beautifully, and we were overcome.
There was mercy here. It came shining through the stories from Don’s siblings. It came through the description of Don’s “grumpy love”, as he sat by his younger brother helping him break an addiction. It came through his sisterâ€™s description of Don’s unassailable curiosity.
Two brothers and a sister told us of a life lived in quiet wonder, a dozen global trips. We heard of a man who read deep into history, especially Celtic and Druid history. They told us of his ploughing through a couple degrees, then learning French, and Portuguese, and traveling some more. And then, winding up working for Alberta Employment and Human Resources, finding ways to help everyday workers. Judging from the number of colleagues there, Don Green made a mark.
Donny, as his mom called him, was no dissembler, he believed with a passion. But my suspicion is that he didn’t believe the way the pastor wanted us to believe he believed. Not that Don didn’t believe what he wrote and signed in his Gideon New Testament that the pastor kept holding up. Not at all. By accounts, he believed passionately, just differently.
While he might have been a bit embarrassed at times for the scores of friends co-workers who packed the chapel, he would, I think, have loved his mother’s prayer that asked the right question. Janet prayed: â€œWhy God, did you take him? And yet, we bless your name. Still, why do you give and take away?â€Â Tomorrow will bring its own questions. Today was the day for this question.