I want to thank the meeting for its love to my family this past week—the visits, the letters, the phone calls, and all the delicious food after the funeral of my father. An interesting custom, the funeral dinner. In the gospel of John, in the 21st chapter, it tells about Jesus fixing his disciples a funeral dinner after his own death. Now that’s really something to prepare your own funeral dinner, but there it is in John 21. We had that happen here once at Fairfield when Dorothy Lookabill, Dinah and Sarah’s mother, passed away. She’d made a big batch of chicken and noodles, then passed away suddenly, and after her funeral, everyone ate Dorothy’s chicken and noodles in the dining room of the white meetinghouse. The second time in history the deceased prepared the funeral dinner. I never knew Dorothy Lookabill, but those who did said she was a lot like Jesus, except instead of touching people to heal them, she fed them chicken and noodles instead.
Nearly fifty people came to our house after the funeral and we walked in to Carl and Cathy Lucas warming up the food. Carl hugged me and said, “We’re the face of Fairfield today, but there are a lot of other Fairfield faces who put this meal together.” There was even, God Bless America, fried chicken, which even my sister-in-law Laurie who only dines on wheat germ and hummus, ate. I looked across the table at her plate and right next to her hummus, was a fried chicken leg poking up.
I said, “Laurie, why don’t you let me take that chicken leg off your hands. That stuff will kill you.” But she wouldn’t budge.
The day after my father’s funeral, my sister posted on Facebook, “I feel so lost and adrift,” which I know is a common feeling after the death of people we love. Lost and adrift. When Sara and Derek lost their baby three weeks ago, I could tell that’s how they felt. They even set balloons loose and watched them sail away, adrift. People came up and hugged the family and said, “We brought you food. You have to eat.”
So a handful of the disciples were back at their jobs, fishing in the Sea of Tiberias, and catching nothing. That sounds like one of Frank Gladden’s fishing trips to me. They went to bed hungry, then the next morning, Jesus came to them. They didn’t recognize him. Now you know fisherman like nothing more than to be told of a secret fishing place, so Jesus said, “You ought to try that place over there,” and they did and they caught so many fish in their nets they could scarcely haul them in. Jesus had stayed behind, building a fire. That’s confidence for you. And he cooked his own funeral dinner and passed it around, and when they started eating, they recognized Jesus. I felt the exact same way the other day when all of you brought food to my family. I recognized Jesus in it.
I remember when I started pastoring Irvington Friends Meeting back in 1990. We had ten Quakers and thirteen committees, and I said to them, “We have too many committees. Let’s have one committee, and every member of the committee will have oversight of one specific area of the meeting’s life.” I thought it was a brilliant idea, if I do say so myself, and they were desperate to try something different, so we killed off all the committees and from the ashes of those dead committed formed one ten person committee. We ran it up the flagpole at monthly meeting for business with the same ten people, and Harriet Combs raised her hand and said, “We left out funeral dinners. Who’ll be in charge of the funeral dinners?”
I said, “Funeral dinners? Who cares about funeral dinners?”
Harriet, who was just the sweetest person God ever made, said, “Oh, we’re not a church without funeral dinners.”
I said, “Okay, Harriet, how about you be in charge of funeral dinners.” So Harriet was in charge of funeral dinners, and let me just say those funeral dinners were so healing and redemptive that we looked forward to people dying. The whole meetinghouse was one big room. We’d set the chairs up for the funeral, then afterwards the men of the meeting would take off their ties and suit jackets and rearrange the chairs and set up big long rows of tables and we’d eat and laugh and find our mooring again, kind of like when a ship has been adrift at sea and finally finds a port.
The story of Jesus feeding his friends is an argument for the healing power of normalcy. Just think how Jesus could have appeared to his friends. Trumpets and lightning and fanfare, but instead just said, “Let’s eat.”
Sometimes when the people we love die, we become desperate and take drastic measures. Sell our homes, quit our jobs, spend a lot of money on things we don’t need. One man I know went to India in search of a guru he’d heard about after his wife died and came back home six months later still lost and adrift. A funeral dinner would have done him a lot better.
Our son Spencer left the dinner a bit early, which is odd for him, and that evening when we were driving over to Pittsboro, we saw him cutting hay. I thought to myself, “Son, your grandpa died. Can’t you take one day off?” What I didn’t appreciate and understand was the healing power of normalcy, that a hay farmer is more likely to be healed going back and forth in an Indiana hayfield, than kneeling in a grand cathedral.
The power of normalcy. I like that about the Quakers. Gathering to meet in a simple, unadorned building, no different from where we live, just a little bigger without any beer in the refrigerator. The power of normalcy. Fish cooked on a fire at the edge of the sea, friends bringing food, a ship finding its port, a young father cutting hay. All of them sacraments, outward symbols of inward realities. The moments and places God is found.