1 Corinthians 12:25-27
That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
“Thank God for this community!” one of us exclaimed looking around at all the familiar faces in the Turner Lounge.
We three women all nodded, wiping our eyes, trying to swallow cookies when our throats were dry and tight from crying. We were standing in a circle, in shock that we had just attended Molly’s memorial service. It felt like a bad dream. How could that have happened?
Molly and her family were part of our community. As Saint Paul reminds us, “If one member suffers, all suffer together.” The most important word here is not “suffer,” but “together.”
In the same way that joy is amplified when celebrating together, comfort is amplified when grieving together. That is one reason why weddings and funerals are so powerful. And so, last Saturday we were suffering together.
At Molly’s service all the presiding clergy, the musicians, the family members who spoke—all knew her and all knew one another. This was so different from the many funerals and memorials I’ve conducted as a hospital chaplain.
As hospital chaplains we always encourage families to contact their own clergy and church communities for services. But that is exactly why I ended up presiding at so many: most people don’t have a church community.
This is Washington state, where when asked about religion, 32% identify as “none” and 22% of say “nothing in particular.”
That’s why I’ve done services where besides the family, I’m the only one participating in the service who knew the deceased. If you don’t belong to a church where do you have a funeral? I’ve done services in places that were completely foreign to a family: funeral homes, community centers, city parks, YMCAs, hospital chapels, wineries, hotel banquet rooms.
These families didn’t get to have that wonderful feeling of home you get when you enter a familiar place; when you know where everything is and you recognize even the smell. When you know a place well—empty or full—it can feel as if the walls themselves are welcoming you.
But it wasn’t like that for these families in unfamiliar places. In addition to their grief they had to search for parking places, restrooms, drinking fountains. They walked alone down strange corridors and got lost in stairwells. Everything was unknown and felt unknowable.
But often, in spite of all the unfamiliarity, people were reluctant to leave these services. Why? I think it is because they suffered together and experienced the healing power of community. But it was a community that came together because of the life of that one person. And that one person is now gone. So after the service that community disappeared.
But as a church community we will come back together again. We are still a community coming together around the teachings of Jesus. Besides suffering when one member suffers, we will also have the experience of all rejoicing when one member is honored.
I can only echo what my friend said, “Thank God for this community.”