"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
The singing got louder because the crowds got bigger. They were streaming in from miles around ... maybe as much as a hundred miles around. Almost all of them on foot or by bicycle. Carrying with them whatever they would need for the journey but also knowing that they would have a place to stay and other things provided for them when they arrived.
We passed the people all day on Thursday and Friday when we were driving to and from the confirmations in the bush. People heading toward Lui. We would slow down and they would wave and shout greetings at us.
When they got to Lui, they encamped in the area around Mama Jarusa's grave ... which was right near the Bishop's tukal. And at night, they would sing. And as the crowd grew, so did the singing.
The funeral was to take place in two parts. The actual burial had happened weeks before ... 3 days after her death, by custom. Saturday morning would be the placing of the cross ... literally putting the headstone in place and dedicating the grave ... and then a procession to the Cathedral for the funeral service.
Bishop Smith was asked to preach at the funeral. I certainly didn't envy him. Even though in my mind I understood the genuineness of their hospitality and how they truly believed that we are family and we belonged there, I couldn't help but feeling at least a little like an intruder at a family occasion ... kind of like the distant cousin who shows up at a special family dinner when nobody has seen them in ages. Yeah, you're family, but ... Guest preaching is tough enough ... but preaching at the funeral of the bishop's wife!
After breakfast, we went over to wait by Bishop Bullen's residence (which was where all the crowds were gathering). There were people everywhere, dressed in incredible colors. The choirs and the clergy were getting vested. We were ushered into the same tukal where we had met Bishop Bullen on our first night and sat waiting for the chief bishop of the province to arrive from Juba (he was late ... not a surprise given the distance and the roads).
(By the way, all the pictures that have the dates on them are courtesy of Susan Naylor)
Outside the tukal, we could see a fire lit and the people heating the drums (which is how you tune them ... the heat stretches the skin and changes the timbre). When everyone had arrived, the clergy vested and we were told to go stand in orders.
The procession was enormous ... only at General Convention had I seen anything larger. Every priest and deacon in the diocese was there and vested (all in cassock and surplice ... Lui is very low church ... I stood out in my alb. Of course, that wasn't the only reason I stood out!).
And this was where it got really, really powerful. The deacons immediately made space for Peggy and Susan. The priests immediately made space for me and the one behind me stretched out his arm so I could sing from his hymnal (we were singing "Onward, Christian Soldiers" in Moru, of course!) so I could join in the singing.
It's impossible to describe what happened in any way that conveys the experience. And we don't really have pictures (though I think Lisa has some) because we were right in the middle of it and too busy just being in the moment .. besides, we were vested and taking part in the liturgy.
It was hot. I mean it was REALLY hot. It was about 10:30 in the morning and the sun was bright and beating down. You noticed it because you were always wiping the sweat out of your eyes, but believe me when I say that other than that I didn't really feel it.
We processed the short distance to the grave and the entire procession formed a great circle around it ... and then the throngs of people not in the procession crowded around also, making this enormous gathering, singing loudly, around the grave. Because we had roles leading prayers, Bishop Smith, Peggy, Susan and I were ushered to the head of the grave and I found myself standing right in front of the headstone.
For a minute I had one of those moments where you kind see yourself and your surroundings almost from the perspective of someone looking at them from the outside. I was in the middle of this incredible crowd of singing people standing at the head of a grave of the wife of the bishop of Lui, a woman who was obviously adored not just by her husband but by this entire community. Part of me marveled at what in the world I was doing there. But most of me was just too busy being blown away by the depth of the love the people were showing for their bishop, for Mama Jarusa, and for God whom they knew was taking care of them all.
The placing of the cross was a simple service. Probably took no more than 15-20 minutes. The presider (the bishop from Juba) led prayers out of a Moru prayer book and also out of the American BCP. Bishop Smith, Peggy and I led prayers from the BCP funeral rite. But again, the technical details don't tell the story. All I can say is that it was one of those wonderful experiences where you know you are in the very depths of what sacred is.
We processed from the grave a short way to the Cathedral. There we had more singing and the funeral Eucharist. Bishop Smith did an amazing job ... a real home run. And he did it by doing what he had to do ... preaching the basics of resurrection and honoring the incredible faithfulness of the people and of Mama Jarusa, past and present. It was one of those situations where he really needed to nail it and he did.
The funeral service was nothing fancy or ornate ... but the emotion and the energy in the Cathedral (which was packed to overflowing) was incredible. At Eucharist, the people just kept on coming and coming and coming. And you got the sense that this was really people being fed.
By the end of the service, we were all that combination of exhausted and energized that leaves you kind of dizzy. We were physically drained from the heat and from the whole experience. We were emotionally drained from the whole experience. But we were also moved and energized from the whole experience.
Reading back over this, it all sounds so inadequate to describe how it really was. Not just the details of the experience, but the power behind the devotion ... and the power that it was as outsiders to feel so genuinely and completely welcomed into the heart of their grieving and celebration for Mama Jarusa.
When I was in Ghana, I wrote about how what I had begun to understand about the true nature of communion was how communion was lived there. Mama Jarusa's funeral was as powerful an experience as I have ever had of communion incarnated. There is a way that I know we can never consider ourselves separate from one another, or consider our lives unaffected by each other ... because we have stood at that grave together ... and we have walked together from the grave to the Eucharist and beyond.
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."