At funerals, there are often so many sounds. The sound of dirt hitting wood. The sound of flowers sliding down the side of the coffin as they are offered with trembling hands. The sound of the heavy cords as they are slid from underneath a coffin. The sound of a vault closing shut — within it a life retreating into dark even as a soul reaches for light. Faint whispers, hushed goodbyes, stifled tears. Perhaps the sound of children or birds or cars or more — the sounds of a world that doesn’t realize that your world has ground still with halting grief.
There’s silence too that is speaking. The silent moments of quiet breath after “Let us pray” and before the words begin. The silence as a coffin is censed and smoke rises with loving goodbyes. The silence broken by slow footsteps and the declaration “I am the Resurrection and the life” that begins a funeral liturgy. The silence as a coffin is loaded into the hearse. Silence speaks.
Silence speaks because God speaks and sometimes it is only in these moments of loss that punctuate our lives that we stop to listen. Of course, liturgies are filled with beautiful sounds — soaring arias and hymns of praise. Yet it is often the moment after the sound breaks when the Holy seems to say, “I am here.”
Those sounds say more than the words. Those sounds give our heart the space to hear the still small voice whispering hope amidst the din and clatter of life’s noise. We pause to love and laugh and cry and we realize that we are blessed with a fearful symmetry in life — for those we mourn are those we have been privileged to love. My experience of people who are most mourned is that they lived their lives as if time is too short to let a kind word go unsaid or a stranger unwelcomed.
Our true hope is to live as though we have already died — to live truly unafraid of what may come and truly at peace. The things that death will open to us are always about us and always true. When death comes, we will be faced with the twin realities that are embedded in the life of the Cross. There will be mourning, pain, and grief. Yet paired with that will come the glory of resurrection life and new truth.
How we live our life determines how our death shall find us. If we are able at the end to say there is no sin we have not repented of, there is no one with whom we have not made peace, there is no one we have not told how much we love them, there is no dream unpursued, no call unheard, no chance untaken — if we have lived the fullness that God expects of us then we will have lived a holy life. We will have flourished as holy creations.
We find moments of transcendence and hope. In laughter, love, and hope. Even in heartache, pain, and grief we are given glimpses of a richly woven world that defies explanation and definition. Anyone who has known love, experienced true grief, laughed loudly, or cried themselves hoarse knows that there is more in life, more to life, more of life than the simply physical … than the real. Christianity gives us the vocabulary to understand this truth. We know the presence of the Holy Spirit in the love of those all around us, the creative love of the Father in the beauty of creation, and the love of the Son in our redemption.
By them and through them we begin to perceive, even dimly, the outlines of the truth of new life. The glory of true life takes form in the irreality of this one — amidst the chaos and distraction of power games and personality cults. We are dead to sin, to the world, in baptism, and are enfolded into the truth of God’s love — a love which will carry us through the end of the real, of this life, and out of this world and into resurrected Truth. That sense of holy direction not only opens the gates of eternal life but opens our life up here and now.
This is the stuff of life between words — in the day’s quiet places and the soul’s still spaces we find ourselves being called anew to Baptismal hope — into newness of life. In between our busyness, our talking, and our frantic to-and-fro, God is calling us to be still — to be silent — and to know true peace.