Taking down the tree — a funeral sermon

Along our post-Christmas street” (photo by Martin Malina Jan 2023)

Taking down the Christmas tree sometimes leaves me feeling saddened, especially for those joyous moments during the holidays when precious memories were made.

For others, taking down the Christmas tree at the end of the season represents the suffering and loss that overshadowed everything else during these last few weeks. Or, maybe you didn’t even put up a tree in the first place.

When suffering and death coincide with superficial Christmas cheer we cannot explain away the grief. Our tears are exposed; they come quickly and often. It doesn’t take much to trigger our sorrow. We cannot deny nor avoid the pain, no matter what time of year.

Surrounded by love for the fallen” (photo by M Malina 6 Jan 2023 in the Arnprior Grove)

What is also exposed by our tears is love. And we cannot explain away love, either. Alongside the unfathomable and often unbearable weight of grief is the mystery of love. How on earth can love co-exist and persist in the valley of the shadow of death?

Many of us will normally take down Christmas decorations in the first week of January. For those who wish to recognize the discipline of the Twelve Days of Christmas they will wait until January 6th—the Day of Epiphany. And for the long haulers, they will wait until the Festival of Candlemas on February 2nd before they take down their Christmas Tree.

The benefit of observing the seasons of the church year is recognizing the natural rhythms and cycles that repeat every year. We can look forward to what the next season offers in terms of meaning and divine promise. 

There’s this joyous anticipation which feeds our innate longing for the good, for the better, even for adventure. Maybe that’s why some people are not in a rush to take down their tree. Because they know, and can rest in, the promise and faith that soon enough the change will happen again next time around.

Wayne gave me the impression that he lived with a strong sense of hope and promise. In my view he was practised in the art of anticipating the good and resting in the promise of the better. 

Maybe it was cultivated by his Bingo-calling days. Yes, Bingo in Pembroke!

I’ve only ever played Bingo but never called it. I imagine the caller has a great job. Because, on the one hand, there is structure in the game: Five columns of letters spelling B-I-N-G-O and under each column are numbers ordered in groups of five (1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25).

So, the hope of which I speak is not a flight of fancy, ungrounded, nor some unhinged pursuit. Perhaps this hope-in-form comes with maturity, experience and age. We must all make mistakes on this journey of growth, to be sure.

But eventually this hope brings joy, the joy that comes from calling the BINGO game. Because as the caller you don’t know when someone will get five-in-a-row. It could be early in the game; it could be late in the game; it could be anywhere in between. Also, as the caller, you don’t know who will win; it could be anyone in the room.

The game carries itself. The caller serves something beyond their control of the outcome. You only know someone will get five-in-a-row at some point. Anticipating this is all the fun for the caller. And so, as the caller, you don’t need to rush. Just let the good thing happen when it will. This is hope.

This hope and anticipation help place the present moment in perspective. For one thing, it allows us to nurture patience, slow things down when necessary, appreciate and even enjoy every moment we have.

During the pandemic when everything ground to a halt even services of worship were suspended for a time, including the sacrament of Holy Communion. No one knew what or how to do things. The church couldn’t meet on Sundays onsite here, in person. Nor could we share in the breaking and eating of bread and drinking the wine from a common cup.

Yet, Wayne and Elsie helped break new ground. 

You see, the Holy Meal conveys the meaning of love in unity—communion—with one another and with God who is merciful and forgiving always. In this Holy Meal, essential to it, is the promise of God to be with us and for us always.

Despite the roadblocks and restrictions and all that may block the flow of God’s love. Despite everything that changes. Somehow, God always finds a way to us. “You did not choose me, I chose you,” Jesus said indicating God’s primary move of love towards us.[1]

And so, upon Wayne’s and Elsie’s request, we forged ahead anyway. We met a couple of times in the parking lot outside this church building. We remained in our cars, parked side to side with windows open even in the freezing cold wintertime. We used makeshift trays to hold the cups and plates on our laps. We brought our own bread and wine from home. And three of us had Communion in the Word of Christ.

It impressed me how much Wayne’s vision was promise-filled, how much his faith allowed him to live in the present with hope, even willing to risk something new—just because it might work. And if not the first time, maybe the next time.

And it did work! Why? Because Wayne didn’t do it alone. Wayne and Elsie did it together. In love.

You see, we can only live in faith when we are in relationships of love. Faith only happens in love. “Faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love.”[2]

In faith, hope and love, we can do many things for the good. In faith, hope and love we can even take down the Christmas Tree this year. We can take it down because we do not do it alone. We don’t do faith by ourselves. Wayne got that.

And at the end, the last time we must take down the tree for the season of our life, we can do it. We can cross that boundary of death in the hope that the seasons are about to turn yet again. Our relationships don’t end, they just change. We are still in communion. Wayne got that.

Thanks be to God.

[1] John 15:12-17

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:13

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