As music ministers, we all have the responsibility to provide service music for funerals and All Saints Sunday. A few years ago I worked for a tremendous Catholic parish with 4,000 families. I affectionately referred to it as a "sacrament factory."
In a church that size, it was "normal" to have one or two funerals per week and "crazy busy" meant seven funerals were in front of us. We all had our appropriate music in a special file folder, ready to go at a moment's notice. The file had all of the sentimental favorites of the parishioners, and suitable prelude and postlude music. The risk of playing at so many funerals was a mechanical, rote, going through the motions type attitude toward the whole thing. The idea of a soul miraculously soaring to Heaven didn't truly mesmerize any of us. We were not captivated by the stories of the dead. We weren't overwhelmed by the love of God in Christ. We simply went about our duties.
That is, until it happened to me. In 2009, my youngest son died suddenly, two days after his twenty-fifth birthday. He was a delight to all who knew him. To know Alex was to love him. He was an artsy double major just like his mom, only cooler. He could improvise as well as Hendrix, play a mean B. B. King, compose lovely piano jazz tunes, and play Debussy with great sensitivity. He was the top sculptor/scholar at UGA, and painted abstracts at Auburn. My pride and joy was gone. My life was gone.
Two months after I lost Alex, my mother passed away from pancreatic cancer. Meanwhile, my husband was diagnosed with early onset semantic dementia, a most aggressive disease. After thirty-six sweet years of marriage, I will lose Eric within the next two years.
With all of these devastating losses surrounding me, I thought of ways to comfort others through the grieving process. When I looked through all of the appropriate music, I found a tremendous dearth of celebratory texts. So, I figured that it begins with me. Remember the saying in the business world, "Find a need and fill it"? Well here it is!
This past All Saints, I was commissioned to write a work for the retiring music director at my church. I incorporated Psalm 116:15: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." Texts with hope, joy and celebration are needed for funerals and All Saints. Poets, out there, are you listening? Help us out here!
There is a paradigm in our culture that presents death with great dread. Is that a Christian attitude of faith? A casual observer would think that a dying Christian is headed toward hell instead of the other direction toward our great reward, life everlasting, seeing our Savior face to face, and holding our loved ones again. Death is a passageway to the Almighty! How glorious would that be? Get the picture? Think of St. Stephen as he was stoned. He was in total bliss as he saw Heaven while dying as a martyr.
It is sad that I had to lose two loved ones to come to this conclusion, but I am happy to have this opportunity to share my hope in meeting our Savior and all the saints of Heaven one day. Who knows, maybe this was all part of God's great and glorious plan to help you as well.