A Funeral

February 25, 2007

(In case you didn’t know, the Presbyterian congregation I serve is made up mostly of Yaqui Indians (Yoeme). The Yaqui are a relatively recent arrival to the United States, they come from what is now northwestern Mexico, and these days, they generally speak both Spanish and English.)

The patriarch of the church is a man in his early 70s. He has 8 or 9 children, depending on who’s counting. A week and a half ago, his fourth child, “Victor,” died from liver and kidney failure. Like many in this community, he had been abusing drugs and alcohol for many years. He died a few months shy of his 50th birthday and left behind children and grandchildren.

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Today, in lieu of the regular worship service, we had a funeral for Victor. As Victor’s sister carried the urn full of his ashes into the sanctuary, the lights and the heat went out in the whole building. Up the block, someone had just crashed into a power pole, and a line had been severed. Most of the windows in the church have been cemented over because of past vandalism, so it was quite dark inside. We threw the doors open onto the cold urban desert, and so for the first half of the funeral, we heard traffic noises and were cold. About half way through the service, power was restored. The lights came back on at the moment in my sermon when I was emphasizing that in God’s house there are many rooms.

One of Victor’s sisters had put together a photo-collage of his life on a posterboard display. We put this on a card table beside the pulpit, and in front of the photos we placed the urn. Beside the urn another sister had placed and lit one of those “Catholic” candles you can buy in the Hispanic section of the supermarket. This served as our point of light in the dark sanctuary.

At the time of the service when I invited people to come forward and share their memories of Victor, four of the men came to the front, including Victor’s father, our patriarch. The father wept and spoke first in Spanish, something I did not expect, despite the fact that Spanish is his mother tongue. Most of the visitors in attendance were from the younger generations and are more comfortable in English. He said several times, “This is something we have to accept.” And he acknowledged that Victor’s bad habits had killed him. He said, “Duele, duele. (It hurts, it hurts).” Victor’s cousin, who I think of as the elder whom I love, also offered his memories. He told of Victor’s speed on the football field. No one could catch him when they were kids. He finished his remarks by saying, “Now that this has happened, I guess I can catch up to him now.”

Afterwards, there was a feast of celestial proportions. Enchiladas, tortillas, both green and red chile, posole, menudo, ham, mashed potatoes, rice, fruit, and soda. Not exactly Lenten deprivation, but a holy feast. My sermon had also touched on the abuses Victor had committed against his own body. I cast these in the overall brokenness of the world, which our Lord has redeemed. If there is one thing I am clear on as a minister of the Word and Sacrament, it is that all dead people–at least the ones that have grieving loved ones invested enough to make a feast and a funeral in their memory–are in heaven. This drug and alcohol addict is whole now.

(The cross image is taken from a prayer card distributed by the funeral home.)

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One Response to “A Funeral”

  1. Liz Says:

    I have met these lovely, lovely people but I never met Victor. I know how his family grieved for him. I have often said that death reaches out and touches us all. I will remember these fine, strong people in my prayers. Victor is out of all his pain.


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