People are funny. There’s no other word that I can think of at the moment that would be as charitable. Where circumstances seek or demand that ( at the very least out of respect for another) we are attentive to a situation or inconvenience ourselves for a few minutes, increasingly people seem to be either woefully or wilfully ignorant.
Among the ministries I am blessed to be able to participate in, I am sometimes called upon to lead funeral vigils, according to the Rite of Christian Burial. These take place at the funeral homes, most often the evening before a funeral. The vigil is generally at the beginning or near the end of the period of ‘visitation’ when people come to pay their respects and share their condolences with those grieving the loss of the deceased.
While it doesn’t always happen, it has occured often enough that I have come to almost expect this: when there are people lined up to pay their respects, and the room where the visitation is ocurring is quite full, there is a noticeable ‘exodus’ as soon as the ‘guy with the collar’ shows up, or when someone announces, ‘we will be offering prayers shortly’.
It’s as if this is a signal to get out ‘while the getting is good’. I’ve seen parents rush through the visitation line, dragging pre-adolescent kids along, to get out before prayers begin. I’ve taken note of people in the lineup (one or two by some distinguishing fashion or hairstyle), only to notice their absence during prayers, but to see them sitting in their cars in the funeral home parking lot when I exit after the vigil is done (and when they see me get in my car, they exit theirs and return to the funeral home).
Sometimes these group ‘disappearances’ occur with the majority of people at the visitation leaving during prayers, and coming back in when the prayers are over. Seriously.
As I recounted several of these episodes recently with a friend, I suggested that in my previous employment as a police officer, had I known it was that easy to clear a room, then I could have saved a whole lot of effort when walking into a barfight or domestic disturbance I simply shouted, ‘we will be praying shortly’ and everyone would have just left. Problem solved!
Now don’t get me wrong. I understand how everyone grieves differently. I understand how some might even be ‘uncomfortable’ praying in public.
But at the very least, out of respect for the dead or to offer comfort to the grieving, would it really be too much to ask folks to just spend just 10 minutes out of their day in prayer (or thought, or silence) out of respect or sympathy? They are already at the funeral home presumably out of some sense of necessity or support for the deceased or their families.
It is one of these things that we should feel strongly about, as part of our humanity, that those around us who experience loss need the support and love of a caring community of friends, relatives and acquaintances. Those who claim to be people of faith are doubly responsible to provide that support and love. This is indeed part of the two great commandments, of loving God and loving neighbour. Something as simple as remaining present while a grieving family prays for their dearly departed loved one and themselves, is a strong witness to the depth of feeling a person has for the deceased, their survivors, or both. It is also a powerful witness to hope – a hope that says I know that my Redeemer lives and I shall see Him on the last day – a hope that says this world is not all there is. Staying and praying with others will most certainly not take you away from something more important – besides, you’re there already.
And who knows – talking to God with a group on behalf of someone else, just might do you some good too. It certainly can’t hurt.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!