I've been in my current cure for almost six months. Our parish is admittedly an aging parish, but I still think I've seen a disproportionate share of funerals in these six months. As a priest, I've heard that some individuals who are near death during an interim sometimes cling to life long enough for the new rector to arrive, but I'm not sure that is true. I mainly think that the cycle of life in our parish these last six months has been weighted toward the latter end.
I like to preach at funerals. I do not like to eulogize, and I consider it a real success if I've managed not to mention the name of the deceased during the funeral. Sure, the good news should be articulated in the context o the dead person's life and witness, but a sermon is about Jesus--even at a funeral. (More about that at another time.) At these funerals, I've preached on a variety of texts, but the one that seems to come up most often is the story of the Good Shepherd, which we have for our gospel lesson this Sunday (4 Easter B).
I think it's about time to preach a sermon about the good shepherd for an occasion other than a Sunday. Still, it's hard for me to separate the iconic words from the casket-context: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep..." I know that I'll look down from the pulpit and expect to see weepy eyes huddled in the first few rows and a pall-draped casket or urn positioned in the nave. But that won't be the case. How can I redeem this beautiful story from its funeral context we've become accustomed to in recent months?
Maybe I should focus on belonging to the good shepherd. Or maybe I should preach about those of the other fold who need to be brought in. Or perhaps I should talk about Jesus, David, and God and how Jesus manages to take an image of a lowly shepherd and make it something we all want. Shepherd, of course, weren't anyone's favorite company, but now we hear this passage and want to cuddle up next to the stinky, lice- and flea-infested sheep herder that is Jesus.
Or maybe since it's Easter I'm not supposed to stray too far from death and resurrection. We are still proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps I am supposed to preach a funeral sermon even though no one is dead. But maybe that's the point after all.