The Washington National Cathedral
I don’t know about you, but last week, I thought a lot about funerals. Fortunately, even though I’m going to more of them, I don’t think about them too often. Come to think of it, I would appreciate getting invited to a wedding or two. Can you help? I’ll even bring a gift.
Back to funerals. Because of a couple of high-profile ones last week, The Church was on full display.
There was Aretha Franklin’s epic eight-hour funeral at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit. Let me repeat that: eight hours. If you didn't sit through it all (shame on you!), check out the highlights here. There was some amazing Gospel singing. Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” will have you standing and praising and so will Fantasia’s sans-high heels rendition of “You've Got a Friend.” The who’s who of preachers was there too: Rev. Jessie Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, and the person-who-would-like-to-be-a-Rev. Bill Clinton. The African American church was on full display and there was no holding back on emotion. There was lots of clapping and “hallelujahs.” There was cringe-worthy controversy. And Aretha’s hearse and the 100-plus pink Cadillac display definitely let everyone know who was the Queen.
In nearly complete opposite tone and tenor, there was Senator John McCain’s funeral. McCain’s funeral actually spanned four days (in Arizona, the Capitol Rotunda, The Washington National Cathedral, and the Annapolis Naval Academy). By that account, he and Aretha were in close competition for whose funeral was the longest. McCain’s primary funeral – the one held at the National Cathedral – was a decidedly more somber affair compared to Franklin’s. The music – provided by the National Cathedral and the Naval Academy - was gorgeous but contained. Opera singer Renee Fleming’s “Danny Boy” had everyone in tears. And the most well known speakers (Meghan McCain, Presidents Bush and Obama) had some words that were decidedly pointed in their calls for a better America. The primarily white, High-Church congregation was reserved and only applauded once. It was all very structured and controlled.
Yes, The Church – on both ends of the spectrum – was on full display last week. Even in all its variety, The Church asserted its importance. We are a people – of any race or creed – who need ceremony. We need pomp and circumstance whether emotions are on full display or tightly controlled. We need a place where it’s acceptable to cry in public. We need clergy who will tell us, “everything’s going to be OK” even when it’s hard to believe. We need to gather, whether it’s for eight hours or 45 minutes to remember someone we loved or admired. We need a place to sing, share, and celebrate the life well lived. The Church - for all its many faults and foibles – can be that space.
Whether you recognize it or not, this is generosity in yet another form. The Church is a place that will open its doors to those who are grieving and hurting. It’s the place where sorrows can be acknowledged and where joy can begin again. That is a gift to our society. Hallelujah and thanks be to God.
P.S. Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church is offering a free webinar, “Share a Budget that Tells a Story” next Thursday, September 13 at 6:30 (CDT). Sign up here.