The other day, I attended a graveside funeral service for the brother of a fellow choir member and friend at Danville’s Highland Burial Park. Years ago, Lester Flatt recorded “Won’t You Give Me My Flowers While I’m Living.” So, in that respect, you can also give me my friends while I’m living, too.
At a graveside service, the church’s raftered ceiling is replaced by the canopy of a tent.
In the cemetery’s funeral tent, the static geometrics of the walls of stained-glass windows are replaced by the more flexible scenes of breeze-blown trees, wafting clouds, passing birds, and the sun’s gradually changing angle of light. And in this particular case, the cemetery’s proximity to a major thoroughfare caused the constant stream of cars and trucks to become the subject of one of the tent’s glassless “walls.”
I sat in the line of metal folding chairs behind the row occupied by the deceased’s family members. Beneath the chairs was a stretched-out mat of green carpet covering the ground. I had to be very careful when I walked, because the carpet gave the misconception of the ground below being perfectly even; but it wasn’t. Little dips in the grassy ground were smoothed over by the green carpet, but not filled in.
Even when I sat down, I had to keep watch of my center of balance; for if I leaned back a little in my chair, the chair leaned, too (and it wasn’t a recliner). It kind of felt almost like I was sitting on one of those “quaking bogs” which comes about through a thick overlying mass of sphagnum moss developing in a swamp. The moss looks like solid ground, but “quakes” (shakes) when you step on it!
Prior to the beginning of the graveside service, I sat there reading the service’s program, which included the particulars of the deceased gentleman’s family life, work, and likes. I glanced up now and then to the gray, flower-festooned steel casket, in a possibly unconscious effort of connecting his information to him.
Glancing up from the casket’s gray steel, I saw the busy thoroughfare and thought about people spending a good bit of their lives hastening here and there within the metal walls of their automobiles, their means of conveyance. Looking back down to the casket, I started thinking of it as a sort of “conveyance” (but this thought smacks more of analogy than scripture).
Later, the wind kicked up, and the tent poles ceased being like supportive “columns,” and appeared as they are: tent poles.
So here we were, the “house” shook, and if you moved within your chair, the ground “quaked!”
At the end of her truly heartfelt homily, the minister led us in reciting the twenty-third psalm.
When we arose from our unsteady seats, an octogenarian minister who had been an attendee of the service, and sitting beside me could hardly stand; as his right leg had fallen asleep.
I braced him to his right; and his wife braced him to his left (no attempt at Lord Tennyson here).
On the way to his car, two of the funeral men joined in support of his walking over the uneven ground. At this point, I made a rather awful joke to the effect that the ground of this cemetery is uneven because all of the holes haven’t been filled in yet (but the funeral men gave a chuckle).
The minister to whom we were providing assistance has been one of the “Pillars of the Church” for many years, even as a professor in the seminary. So, in helping him, each of us became a supporting (maybe not “flying”) “buttress.”
On the way home, I reflected that the minister of the graveside service had sent us forth with scripture; and that immediately afterwards, we had joined together to help another in physical need.
And since from all accounts, the deceased had been a very good man; I think he would have been glad, and proud.