Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Land of the Living

The recent absence of blogging has been due, at least in part, to the busyness of the weekend in attending a funeral. Aubrey's grandfather, Papa Neal, passed away last Tuesday, and we drove up to Nashville over the weekend to attend the funeral and spend time with family.

I haven't been to many funerals, and so they still strike me as very unusual events. Death is a scary thing, as so it spends most of its time being ignored. We prefer to think about happy things, and light, fluffy things, and avoid anything that smacks of serious consequence. Funerals make you think about death. And thinking about death makes you think about life. That can be uncomfortable sometimes too. Friday night was the visitation, for about four hours people came and visited with the family, and the casket was open, and Papa Neal was reclining in a nice suit. Most of the socializing went on as normal, away from the casket, talking about all manner of ordinary things, trying to laugh and carry on as usual. But everyone took a turn going by the casket, paying their last respects, and at least for a moment, not knowing what to say. What do you say? Its hard to come so close to the reality of death. Moses pleads that God would teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. We need to contemplate death, because we need to contemplate life, and we need to know the one who holds it all in His hands.

I held back my tears at the funeral, but I cried at the burial. Partly because Papa Neal had been in the military, so they gave a 21 gun salute, and played Taps. Officially the ceremony ended with the prayer, but nobody moved as the cemetary workers came and turned the winch to lower the casket into the grave. The nice wooden casket was placed in a metal box, and then lowered 6 feet down. Papa Neal's only remaining brother, the last of 6 kids, was helped out of his wheelchair, and stood right next to the grave, as though to be close one last time. He gently tossed the first shovelfull of dirt, then the backhoe was unceremoniously started, and filled in the rest of the grave. And so it was. His body was committed back to the earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. He doesn't need it anymore. His soul has gone into the presence of God, to await the ressurection of the dead. Should the Lord tarry each of us shall follow. But not forever. Death is an enemy, and it shall be conquered.

"But I shall rise victorious and subdue
My vanquisher, spoiled of his vaunted spoil.
Death his death's wound shall the recieve and stoop
Inglorious, of his mortal sting disarmed...
While by Thee raised I ruin all my foes,
Death last, and with his carcass glut the grave...
Wrath shall be no more,
Thenceforth but in Thy presence joy entire."

-J. Milton Paradise Lost

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