It was the most extraordinary time for a Christian funeral. Holy Saturday. The night before, the Chancel Choir sang two Good Friday services; the next morning, they would sing three Easter services. But here they were, at Noon on Easter Saturday, to sing in memorium, for a young woman lost to a fierce cancer. Anne sang in this choir for several years, met and courted Lee in this context, was wed in a ceremony officiated by their pastor/choir director. Four and a half years later, buried, age 34.
But those are just the sad facts. It was an extraordinary time for a Christian memorial service. The night before, the Choir had sung beautifully and powerfully, "this is earth's darkest hour, but You restore the light; then let all praise be given to you who live forevermore. Give us compassion, Lord, that as we share this hour, your cross may bring us joy - and resurrection power!" We lingered at the Cross reflected in the Table, where we sang of the Beautiful Savior, "none can be nearer, fairer or dearer, than Thou my Savior art to me." With the congregation we ended the night with a song unknown: "Here might I stay and sing of him my soul adores. Never was love, dear King, never was grief like yours. This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend."
And on Saturday, we had the privilege of spending another day in his sweet praise. Sitting in full view of the breaved Lee, and his parents (also in this Choir) and her parents (former choristers with us), it was again our privilege to lead in the singing of hymns, and to offer up an anthem on behalf of all the assembled. The hymns, the scripture, the husband's remembrance, the beautiful and apt funeral homily - and then the requested choir anthem.
Lee and Anne have not sung with this choir for two years, being charter members and active leaders in a daughter church. They last visited a morning service at College Church this winter, when the Choir sang Paul Sjolund's "My Jesus, I Love Thee" with violin obligatto. Anne had said to Lee, "I'd like them to sing that at my funeral." It was not a long-range request. In January Anne had been finally told, after 3+ years of treatment for melanoma, that there were no more treatment options. She was already facing the end of her life on earth.
And so it was that the choir loft filled on Holy Saturday, between the Cross and the Resurrection, and sang:
My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine ...
I love thee because thou hast first loved me,
and purchased my pardon on Calvary's tree;
I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now.
And then, for the first time all voices together, in unison, forte:
In mansions of glory and endless delight
I'll ever adore thee in heaven so bright;
I'll sing with the glittering crown on my brow:
"If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now."
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou,
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, 'tis now.
It is a Holy Week we will not soon forget. Anne's death on Monday colored everything we did. Many choristers sang Good Friday with an extra layer of somberness, and a clearer sense of loss, than this service itself gives. (And I have to say, we have a powerful, evocative Good Friday service.) And the glorious truth and promise of Resurrection colored the singing in the memorial service on Saturday. And the reality of Anne's eternal life lifted our Alleluias on Sunday morning.
I have said many times over the past few days, "the choir does the heavy lifting during Passion Week to begin with. This weekend they were heroes." But they? They simply did that thing that church choirs do - they showed up when asked and needed, and sang their very best all weekend long, and pointed listeners to the source of their faithfulness and strength, and gave God glory.
It was the most extraordinary time for a Christian funeral. And a most extraordinary Easter.