I’ve finally written a bit about my ministry as a crucifer. In regular services of the Holy Eucharist, it means a great deal to me. I’d rather be a crucifer than anything else in the liturgy. As KirkE said, "I love to touch the holy things." I love serving at the altar, and am aware that it is a foretaste of how we will all eventually stand with God.
But a particular ministry has emerged. I especially love serving as crucifer at funerals.
I’ve written already about how I began to be allowed to serve when our young people weren’t available. This emerged early: When Harv+ (then our rector) had funerals, they were generally on weekdays, and the kids generally were not available. I was. So I became Harv’s go-to crucifer for funerals. And over the years, Harv and I became friends.
Now … You need to know this. Death has always pissed me off. Whether it was the kittens and cats who died in my childhood, or (later) the humans I loved, I ranted and railed at sudden death. For the most part, I have not come to terms with death as a part of our life.
What I wrote here about Uncle Russell is an exception. I can cope with those who have a holy death for which they can prepare. I can have some peace about people who die in the natural course of things. Some peace. Not much. But when people or creatures die young, or from disease, or from violence, it just pisses me off.
My vehement War on Death dates for me to my friend Helen, who was brutally murdered in 1977. That gentle soul was slashed to death, murdered to ribbons. Ever since then, I have had a fierce anger about people who die. When the Baptist congregation sang “How great thou art” at her funeral, my hands turned into fists. I was livid. In my own funeral instructions, I have warned the survivors that I’ll come back and haunt them if they sing that damn song at my funeral.
So that’s background – my own feelings about death.
I served as crucifer with Harv at many a funeral. To me, this was even more meaningful than the usual Sunday Eucharist. Harv gave me good instructions and training. After a couple of funerals, Harv came back to me, telling me that I could rest the cross on the floor during the commendation. “Yes, I know,” I’d say. But I never did rest the cross on the floor during the commendation. I held the cross as high as usual … or even higher than usual.
I knew why. Harv didn’t.
Then Harv’s wife succumbed to another round of cancer and died. Too young. I was deeply honored when he and his family asked me to serve as crucifer for her funeral.
The visitation was held in our church the evening before the funeral. Hundreds and hundreds of people came. Harv and his wife were both beloved in this town. I worked down in the parish hall, providing refreshments. Eventually, when the lines finally grew short, I went up into the church to give my greetings to Harv and his family.
By then, things had slowed down enough that I could have some real conversation with Harv.
I told him how grateful I was that he had asked me to serve as crucifer for Barb’s funeral. Then I said something like this: “In all the funerals we have celebrated together, you’ve always told me I could rest the cross on the floor during the Commendation. But do you know why I never did?”
No. Of course, he didn’t.
I said: “Because I hate death! And when I hold the cross aloft, I am saying to Death – to Satan – ‘You don’t win this one!’ God wins!”
The next day, we had the funeral for Harv’s wife. He was there in the first row, grieving his wife’s death. And I held the cross high as the Bishop said the commendation. As I turned to lead the casket down the aisle, I met Harv’s eye, and we winked. He had “heard” what I said in that lifted cross. And, as I held that cross high, I believe the forces of evil and death heard me. They did not win, after all.
I continue to volunteer whenever a funeral is held in our parish. I carry the cross as high as I can. I cannot always hold the cross aloft during the commendation, due to the neurological thingy.
But I walk with that cross and serve as crucifer in testament against death: Death, you don’t win! In the end, God wins. And I carry that cross in testament to that truth.