The church was filled with light, but the most prominent feature in the sanctuary was the stained glass window. The light filtering through the stained glass was absolutely amazing. Yesterday afternoon when we arrived at the church for the memorial service of the mother of a colleague, the pianist was playing background music. The Steinway Grand Piano he was playing was probably the second most prominent feature in the sanctuary.
Actually, I’m not sure why I referred to it at background music. Even though I have absolutely no recall of any specific selection of music that was played prior to the service beginning, the songs were played beautifully. I just remember that it was exceptionally done and that the size of the piano made an impact because of its presence. There was no mistaking it, the piano was prominently and strategically located to capture one’s attention. But somehow referring to the songs as background music seems almost irreverent.
The pianist was of course playing hymns associated to the Christian faith. The unspoken message reverberating through the music of the unsung words were intended to promote comfort and hope. I remember thinking that not only was the sound of the piano exceptional, but that music promoted a sense of peace or a sense of calm.
Prior to the congregation standing as the family entered the sanctuary, I noticed the poinsettias that lined the front of the church. I don’t know how many there were. I didn’t count them, but they represented a significant number. They served as a subtle reminder that Christmas is near. Why did I say subtle reminder? Nothing echoes the message of the Christmas season more than the red and green foliage of poinsettia plants.
The memorial service was truly a tribute and celebration. Both of the mother’s sons, her only grandson and a granddaughter participated in the service. They, along with her pastor, thoughtfully captured the essence of her life and the hope that is theirs. The memorial service was a fitting tribute and like the music, the words that were spoken were exceptionally well done.
Last night as I reflected on the events of the day, I thought of all of the families I’ve known who have bid farewell to a loved one at Christmas time. Somehow the initial abruptness of grief can seem contextually out of sync with the sounds and celebration associated to Christmas.
For that matter, the “first of anything” following the death of a loved one can trigger the thought of how different one’s life has become without the physical presence of their loved one. Last night I thought about the friends I know who will be celebrating Christmas this year for the first time with an empty chair at the table. They have all experienced the death of a parent over the past several months.
Actually, as I began my mental inventory of the names of friends on that list, I was surprised that they number more than I can count on one hand. In reality, they number more than I can count on both hands. Regardless of age or circumstance, this Christmas will be a different Christmas for them.
Several years ago, my dad’s brother died on Christmas Day. At his funeral service, one of his granddaughters read a poem entitled: “My First Christmas In Heaven”. A 13-year-old terminally ill youngster allegedly wrote the poem shortly before his death. I subsequently discovered that is only one of several different stories that have surfaced surrounding the origin of the poem. Regardless of authorship, the poem is thoughtfully written and powerful.
Reportedly, most trace the origin of the poem to Wanda Bencke, the mother of a terminally ill daughter. She actually wrote the poem as though she was writing it from her daughter’s perspective. She entitled the poem: “Christmas in Heaven”.
Christmas in Heaven
I see the countless Christmas trees around the world below
With tiny lights, like Heaven’s stars, reflecting on the snow
The sight is so spectacular, please wipe away the tear
For I am spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
I hear the many Christmas songs that people hold so dear
But the sounds of music can’t compare
with the Christmas choir up here.
I have no words to tell you, the joy their voices bring,
For it is beyond description, to hear the angels sing.
I know how much you miss me, I see the pain inside your heart
But I am not so far away, we really aren’t apart.
So be happy for me, dear ones, you know I hold you dear.
And be glad I’m spending Christmas
with Jesus Christ this year.
I sent you each a special gift, from my heavenly home above.
I sent you each a memory of my undying love.
After all, love is a gift more precious than pure gold
It was always most important in the stories Jesus told.
Please love and keep each other, as my Father said to do
For I can’t count the blessing or love he has for each of you
So have a Merry Christmas and wipe away that tear
Remember, I am spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.
I need to make one other correction to a statement I previously made. I wrote: “Somehow the initial abruptness of grief can seem contextually out of sync with the sounds and celebration associated to Christmas”. At face value that affirmation sounds accurate. Yet, what I’ve come to discover is that the abruptness of grief can only be handled in the context of the Christmas story. Consequently, the two are in separately linked together.
God’s gift of Christ provides the wherewithal for the redemption of mankind. Without Christ and the gift of life he provides, there would be no basis for hope. That understanding is the “balm of Gilead” that turns the darkness and despair of death into the light of life. Because of the gift of Christ at Christmas, death is not defeat or the end of life, but simply a transformation to life eternal.
All My Best!