Sunday, April 22, 2018

I am not a kook

Former President Richard Nixon died on this day in 1994.

"A man is not finished when he is defeated," Nixon once said. "He is finished when he quits."

I went to the funeral of a childhood neighbor recently. It was in an Episcopalian church, but I don’t know whether it was “high Episcopal” or low. It was quite subdued, in any event. Even the widow was muted. They’d been married for 65 years. I read online that it’s considered by Episcopalians bad form for a widow to break down during the ceremony. 

The service is based on the Book of Common Prayer. It’s a prescribed rite. There are also eulogies, non-emotional in tone. The ones on this occasion were sleep-inducing. There were, however, some touching reminiscences by the daughter and grandkids of the deceased, read by a couple of  officiants. 

A woman priest ran the show, and the reverend ms. delivered a “Homily” on the theme of the departed one’s steadfastness. Communion was part of the service, as was communal singing (the old standards: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”)

No ad-libbing could improve on the poetry of the Book of Common Prayer.

In the midst of life we are in death…deliver us not into the bitterness of eternal death…the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death…grant (the deceased) an entrance into the land of light and joy…that kingdom where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying…” It reaches a crescendo with The Commendation:

All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”

According to this litany, God has scored a “victory over death,” a triumph foreshadowed in Isaiah 25:8 (also read at the service): “He (God) will swallow up death forever.” The italics are mine – it’s a lovely phrase, and an intriguing idea: God subsuming something that was an aberration to begin with.

Just wondering, though: How can eternal death be bitter, to one who’s oblivious?