Does death become us?
I facilitated my first funeral this morning since moving to France to serve as pastor of a parish of the French Reformed Church. Arriving and being unknown the mortuary staff was amazed when I shared where I came from. What? You'd leave California to come here? There were nice, professional and competent. It was like I was at one of the nicer mortuaries in my previous home of Oakland. They played music before and after the brief service I led. The room was without art, pale colored, neutral and calming in every aspect - including the idyllic pond scene complete with lillipads and light reflecting into the ceremony room. It was all about being peaceful. Yet I was struck by the way in which those professionals avoided "death." They only referred to the man who had died as "he." The casket was closed. It was as if he was there without being there, without ever being referred to in the first person (except by me) and then conveniently and efficiently carted off to the music of Bach through a hidden door on the western wall of the room.
I spoke about peace in my little homily - talking about what it is according to Christian scripture and the teachings of Jesus: not the absence of war, conflict or death, but rather the life-giving presence of the divine in our daily life and world. Why is it that when someone dies our cultures : wether American or French ... seek to downplay it, to avoid it all in order to maintain the peace, create peace and not make any waves. Death is painful. Unforgettable. Life-altering. A wound that never completely heals but that we learn to live with. Isn't peace what it means to live with loss, pain and hurt? Why do we smooth over the pain, pushing each other on to some sort of vague vision of beauty. When I looked for google images on peace here's the contrast I found: either some sort of hippie, rainbow love-in version or a nature scene with water, mist and no specifics.
At the same time I'm struck by three quotes regarding peace that seem to go much deeper than our society and culture want to permit us:
Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.
Bishop Oscar Romero
“Peace it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Jesus of Nazareth (John 14:27)