Readings: Psalm 126; Habakkuk 3:2-6; Philippians 3:12-16
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
Psalm 126, NRSV
I’ve never seen it in real life, but I’ve seen it dozens of times in movies and television shows: a New Orleans funeral procession. Musicians play a dirge, giving mourners a slow beat as they walk with the casket, heading for burial. Through streets they go, their grief on display for everyone – a bartender heading to work, a mother pushing a stroller, the tourist taking selfies and some kids with their homework. Grief cuts through all of them, keeping its own graveyard appointment. Memento Mori.
But the way back is something else. When the casket is lowered and the last prayers said, the band picks up the tempo. Those who buried a friend or relative leave the mournful music behind, dancing back to life with exuberance and joy. Those who went out weeping come home with shouts of joy, just like the psalmist said. The fruits of mourning and loss are joy and a renewed appreciation for life: the seeds of loss become the sheaves that nourish and enrich life. It’s Psalm 126, it’s the hope of resurrection, it’s an acceptance and release of death set to music, walking down a street.
The older I get, the more I like the idea of this kind of funeral. There’s no denying the loss – everyone sees it and no one attempts to keep it private. Grief walks every street in every city: New Orleans is just more honest about it. On the other side of the grave is a street celebration of life with drums and horns to get everyone moving back into life. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? Accept the loss, share your grief, let it go, return to the land of the living in joy.
It’s an old pattern and a modern one, found in two thousand year old psalms and New Orleans funeral processions and Irish wakes. Mourn, let it go, return to life a bit wiser and a bit more joyful. It’s a holy pattern, one of the gifts of faith from a God who wants even our greatest losses to end in jubilation. May I have the strength, courage, and wisdom to follow it.
The Blind Boy of Alabama, Uncloudy Day, Down in New Orleans, 2008 Available on iTunes