Father Yale wrote this some time ago, but would like to share it once again as its ideas are timeless and continue to apply to our hearts.
Two weeks before Easter we were shocked to learn of the sudden death of the Rector of Holy Trinity, Alhambra, David Pettit. To compound the tragedy, Fr. Pettit had only been rector for about six months. I can only imagine how painful and demoralizing that would be for a parish.
Upon hearing the news, our Rector and I decided that it would be important to attend the funeral. Buy why? Neither of us knew Fr. Pettit. Fr. Nick had spoken of him once on the phone. I spoke to him briefly at a clergy meeting when he first arrived, and the topic of our discussion was California weather. So why would it be so important to go?
A few years ago the Bishop of California (San Francisco), William Swing, issued a pastoral letter to the Bay Area clergy encouraging them to attend the funerals of fellow priests, even if they didn’t know the person. Bishop Swing’s reasons were that in Christ we are one people, one family. Even if we didn’t know each other we are still one in Christ. At times of crisis, we need to affirm this with an unequivocal voice.
I have always found Bishop Swing’s concern in this area quite compelling. I remember reading philosopher Martin Heidegger’s works in seminary. A major point that Heidegger reiterates is that death is the most solitary event in a person’s life – we die alone.
Well, no we don’t, at least not those in Christ. The truth is we are not alone in death, but that we die with Christ, and we shall be risen with him. And being in Christ we also die together. When a member of the church dies we are called to be there – to support, to grieve, and to proclaim the death and resurrection of our Lord. Christians do not die alone.
It is always a bit sad to be celebrating a service of Christian Burial for a parishioner and not to see any familiar faces. Some of the time, I know, the problem is that we may not have known about it. But, when we do, we should (I should) make every effort to be there.
We are a people of the Resurrection. As such, we are empowered to face death with courage and faith together. For we know that the final word is Gods’, and it is life. At this time of Easter let us commit ourselves to testifying and celebrating our life in Christ, not only in times of joy, but more importantly in times of sorrow.
Richard B. Yale