Part of the reason I wanted to become a missionary was so that I wouldn’t have to marry or bury anyone. The rather intense formality of these ceremonies was something that I wanted to avoid! Anything I cannot do in jeans is a bit too formal for me. I’m not sure why I thought that mission work would help me to hide from these life events. If I thought I could evade them, and evade officiating them, well, I couldn’t have been more mistaken!
Over the past two months I’ve officiated one wedding and been involved with three funerals. Oh, and a quinceaños ceremony. Now, however, I don’t dodge these important life events. They are some of the most special occasions that exist for a minister of the gospel. Especially in the funerals, but even in the weddings, people are open and desirous of hearing a word from God. In the most recent viewing, seven of us from the church ended up singing all the songs I had printed out on a sheet of paper (nine total, including hymns and modern praise songs) with a group of Catholic relatives who very much appreciated the words and spirit of our evangelical songs. We sang to after midnight.
The rituals surrounding a funeral are radically different here than they are in the U.S. Here, the body of the deceased in not embalmed. Basically, the body is either buried or cremated within 2 days maximum after the time of death. The velorio, or viewing, happens most often in poorer families in a house. Sometimes the viewing occurs in a funeral home. A viewing often starts late afternoon and continues throughout the night. In the three viewings that Mayra and I have attended over the last month or so, we arrived home at 2:30 a.m., 3 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. respectively. There is a saying here…En la cama y en la cárcel se conocen los amigos. When you’re sick in bed or in jail, you know who your friends are. It’s very important to be with people during this time. It is culturally expected, and highly valued. The sepelio, or funeral service, happens the next day, usually in the morning. It is increasingly common in Mexico for the deceased to be cremated, so often there is little or no formal ceremony with cremation.
The picture below is from last Saturday. Alejandro, one of the men in our church, stands, mourning, over the freshly dug grave of his mother. I know that Alejandro and his wife Gabriela, in big and small ways, became much more integrated into the life of the church and stronger in their faith because of the events surrounding the death of his mother. We were there for him. Jesus was too.
The text below is from a decade ago, reflections of mine after a similar graveside experience. You may want to read it if you have a minute.
Our message is a Man. The power and passion is a Person. Being a friend with Jesus is all anybody ever needs. I am a friend with the Creator of the Universe, not just a servant, but a friend. The joy that comes from friendship with Jesus is our trump card here on earth.
Organized religion and all the diverse aggressive sects in the world can copy our doctrine, zealously proclaim their version of it, and even sing about it, but they cannot come close to reproducing true Christian joy that comes from, and exclusively comes from, the knowledge that I have an intimate relationship with the Almighty. Direct, unhindered access to the presence of the Creator of the universe is pretty heady stuff, and we would do well to let it show every now and then. The difference is notorious, whether at a grave site or a grocery store. The smile that says, “I know something you don’t know,” or better said, “I know Someone you don’t know.” People will mock us, will ridicule us, but will remain with a little seed of curiosity, of wonder, of transcendence.
God’s glory begins to grow in strange places sometimes. As holy tap water mixes with clods of mud, dust returns to dust, and the Spirit of God swirls like the wind among teary eyes and fresh-cut flowers