No enemy to fear

Oct 3rd, 2009 | By | Category: Ministry

The undertakers were up from the country with the gentle ease of men at home with what they were doing.  Their suits did not quite match, a slight stripe in one not reflected in the others.  The hearse was only a year or two old but had been well used.  When the passenger door was open, the aluminium sill, that protected the bodywork from feet climbing in, had come loose.  One of the men prodded it with his toe and then stamped on it with his heel.  Satisfied with his handiwork, he stepped into the car.

“A fine piece of metalworking”, I remarked to the man standing beside me.

“Indeed”, he said.  “It reminds me of the story of the man who was stopped by a Garda for a motoring offence”.

“D’ye know”, said the Garda, “the back light of the car does not be working?”

“Ah, Jeez”, said the man, “if I got out of the car and gave the light a kick, it would be working fine”.

“That’s grand” said the Garda, “well you may get out of the car and give the windscreen a kicking, for ye have no motor tax”.

We stood and laughed, the moment lightened.

Funerals in the country, unless the circumstances were tragic, were light occasions.  Walking behind the coffin, there would be stories and laughter.  There seemed almost a desire to put on the best show possible for the deceased.  Some of the most profound things were said by people walking along behind a coffin; it was almost as though the occasion allowed a relaxing of the normal rules.  The best funerals were the ones where the most serious things could be said with laughter.

After leaving the churchyard, memories returned of going to a friend’s funeral in September of 2003.  It had been a sad occasion; people are not meant to die at the age of 47, but amongst the sadness there was a lightness.

Before turning the car to head for Dublin, I remember going back to the graveyard to pay my private respects. Five members of one of the most extended families in the area, stood around the grave, two were completing the task of filling it in, the other three, still in their Sunday suits, looked on.

One of them looked up from the grave. “Hey, Ian”, he said, “haven’t you got a grave here somewhere?”

“I paid for one”. I replied. “I don’t know where it is”.

“I do”, said one, “It’s beside our sister’s”. With which he paced out about four grave widths and pointed to the ground with his toe. “There you are, Ian. There’s your patch”.

We all laughed. One day the young fellows standing at the grave would be burying their former Rector and there would be laughter at memories.

I’m glad the undertaker kicked the car today, it was a jolt into getting death into its proper perspective: it’s the last enemy and it’s been defeated.

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  1. Hmm . .I’m not sure I accept funerals with such levity frankly. Then I’ve only ever been to funerals where people have passed long before their ‘use by’ date.

  2. Saint Paul writes that Christian faith is about going to be “with Christ which is far better”, so even in the sad funerals there is reassurance. One of the most common Scripture readings at funeral services urges that we “grieve not as others do who have no hope”, lightness comes from the faith of the people around.

  3. I don’t understand the ‘last enemy’ bit, death is what happens, it is part of our lives

  4. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” is from Saint Paul writing about the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day (it was part of the funeral service for generations). Without confidence in that moment, Christianity becomes nothing.

  5. Good story. Thanks.

  6. I think it is not death that worries people, but the actual dying that frightens them.

  7. You’re right.

    There’s a lovely prayer in the old service of Compline that says, ‘The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and a perfect end’. I’m never sure what a ‘perfect end’ might be, but I think I would like to have one.

  8. Well, it makes sense in the St. Paul context. I had completely forgot the Christian element (and where I was obviously)…

  9. Auntie Bett would have been very disappointed that you hadn’t listened to those warnings of fire and brimstone!

  10. I listened, and I thought about it – for a long time on and off – and I disregarded it

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