My parents taught me by example in most things in life. And one thing I saw them do was attend funerals and go to visitations. They made time to go, not just for family, but for friends, for people from church and from work. They went out of their way to be there. I’ve known that it is important from their example, and I have tried to make sure I go as well, sometimes mostly because I know my parents would go if they could. However, I don’t think I have understood the value of presence until the last few months. In these last few months, at two separate funerals, I experienced two different sides of presence.
At the funeral of a grandparent this summer, I watched my mother-in-law be loved by the presence of her family, her church, and her friends. But I noted that only one person came for us particularly. I felt the lack of presence that day, but I did not understand what it was that was bothering me.
Sadly, we experienced a second death a few short months later. The visitation and the funeral were held in the same place with the same people in the same room. Again, I saw my mother-in-law surrounded by people who came to be there for her. But this time, people came particularly for us in our grief. And then I understood. I understood because while I was blessed by the many who people come to comfort us and my children, I still saw the lack of presence for other family members in the same room. I hurt for them because the presence of people made such a difference for us over those two days and I wanted the same for them.
Am I telling you this so that you will go to funerals even though they are hard? Absolutely! Know your presence is a gift to the family. My mom said something that day that started with, “If you can’t spend an hour celebrating someone’s life….” She’s right. But there is more than just your presence involved. You can bring hurting people into the presence of Emmanuel — God with us.
We are coming into the Christmas season where we acknowledge Emmanuel frequently in our carols. But we can often dismiss that same name when we are suffering. We say in many ways that God being with us in our pain doesn’t fix the pain, and God should fix it, not just be present in it.
I believe that God will fix it. We are promised a new heaven and a new earth, the old will pass away. But in the moment of pain — God with me is a gift beyond all measure. Hope is good for the future. But PRESENCE is good NOW.
Some would say that they can’t feel God’s presence. And that’s where you come in. We — the church — are Christ’s body. His hands. His feet. Our presence at funerals and other times of pain are to remind people of God’s presence. Our hugs can be hugs from God. Our gifts of flowers remind grieving people that they are loved — by us and by God with us.
People need your presence to remind them of God’s presence today. It might not be at a funeral (though if it is, you should go). It might be your co-worker at work today. It might be the customer who comes to your cash register. It might be the waitress at lunch. You will see people today who need God’s presence, who need GOD WITH US. Who will you remind today of God’s presence by your presence? Help someone know that He is there.