Funerals are rarely easy. And no one expected Joey’s to be anything but hard. Heart failure ended his life before his 50th year. So on top of having to say goodbye that is always difficult, there was the sense of so many potentially productive years missed.
And because we’re Joey’s church family, many of us knew some of the burdens and struggles that weighed down Joey’s life (as everyone has their crosses to bear). We also knew some of the difficulties he and Woody had, particularly in these last years. It’s near impossible not to feel some of that too at his life’s end.
But we are the church, and alongside the sorrow and mortality and emptiness and anger that the funeral service’s opening prayer gives us permission to feel, we also need to name and celebrate the blessings and give thanks for the ways that God used Joey for good.
In Joey’s case, that wasn’t so hard. His and Woody’s work with young people in color guard made it sort of a no-brainer. Sort of analogous to a Mason’s funeral, if we could put on a color guard funeral for Joey, we’d easily do his life justice.
With Woody’s dedication and video expertise, and the performance of this year’s color guard Joey was working with, the presence of so many and the dear remembrances of former students, parents, even competitors… With the support of Holly and our choir and guests from the Healing Presence Singers, we “done good” and honored Joey’s life well. I believe and like thinking that somehow from over yonder, Joey witnesses what was shared, and finally got it.
So what I’m going to write about is just a sideline, almost a silly note, but also, I think, a sign.
Woody wanted an hour of reception for people to visit and catch up before the service. During shelter season, we only have the Sanctuary space. He didn’t want any fuss, and there wasn’t the room or set up to do real food. But I convinced him that for an after work time slot we needed to, at the least, offer coffee and tea. I said the church could provide that (which really meant I’d ask John O. to set it up!). Woody agreed.
Then in staff meeting on Wednesday, I thought, “Maybe church folks could bake cookies to add a bit of sweetness and energy… and some holdover until people got home late to real food.” We wondered if on such short notice, people would have time to bake? Woody was expecting the hundreds of people that turned up!
I figured that a couple of trays of cookies — even if not enough for everyone present — would still be the church welcoming, hosting, supporting. I mean, how could we come up with enough cookies to feed all these people and their dinner time appetite?
A leap of faith! … But not letting Woody know until we I was sure we could pull it off… just in case!
I sent out an e-mail quickly and sort of haphazardly. To people who might bake (I admit an embarrassing profiling — the list was disproportionately female). But also to folks who knew Joey and Woody well, and to those who I thought have a deep sense of how church folks are ‘there for each other.’
The e-mail had just gone out, and I was holding my breath. Then my phone buzzed: Mike W. texting he’s bring 3 dozen.
And almost as quickly, Nancy, who had theater tickets with her grandchildren on Friday night, wrote back and said she could do 5 dozen cookies.
And then April, who was already heading up the Young Adults’ Shelter Dinner on Thursday, wrote she’d do 6 dozen.
And Holly said she’d bring some, even though she was already orchestrating all the music for the service.
And Lisa M. said she’d make between 10 and 12 dozen!
Billi was next.
All in about 4 minutes. A cookie avalanche had begun.
Karen H., Margaret, Georgie, Jackie, Beth W., Greta, Janice, Marjorie, the Obandos, Joanna… And those were the ones I heard from and remember. More seemed to just keep showing up. I can count expecting 67 dozen cookies. And maybe we had more that showed up. Rounding up, as grace invites us to, 1000 cookies materialized out of nowhere. Our out of your love. Or God’s love that you know not to hold on to, but to share generously.
John O., even though he wasn’t feeling well, was his helpful self as usual and got the set up started. And Billi and Cole showed up early and set up another table for all the cookies. And Mike W. helped. And Annemarie when she wasn’t at the door greeting with Greta. And Jackie just kept refilling the trays, until almost 9:30 as the last people were finally leaving. And she helped me clean up.
Before the service was over, Jackie had lunch sacks out, and as people came down from the Sanctuary, we invited people to fill them with cookies. And they did. Even if one man told me that he’d given up cookies for Lent, a woman and her teenage nephew took three bags full!
And we still had cookies leftover. For the guys in the shelter. For Sunday’s coffee hour. And chocolate chips for Woody to take home because we heard he loves them.
It was a minor miracle for me. Only one of many last night. And one of the many things that brought tears to my eyes.
Did it change everything? Nope. Joey is still gone, and that’s such an incomprehensible loss.
But the church showed up. To welcome so many guests. And to join with them in giving thanks and trusting in God — even praising — when we can’t quite understand God’s ways. And to support Woody.
And the cookies became for me a very real, physical presence of that love. A promise that we are there, will be there. For Woody. And for anyone else that needs some love, support, hope, or just a cookie.
And on top of all the uniqueness of Joey’s funeral — how many at their homegoings get flags and sabers and rifles flying in the air — people will remember the cookies they were sent home with, hopefully just a sweet taste of God’s love they experienced in the shelter of Christ’s church.
See you on Sunday,