When my Grandma died, I remember the whole family gathered in the basement of our church while we waited for the pastor to come in and pray with us before we would be seated in the sanctuary. I was fourteen and in addition to me and my immediate family, there were tons of my cousins and aunts and uncles stuffed into that room – most of whom I had never met before. I had grown up living just down the road from Grandma. I spent time over at her house most days – talking at her kitchen table and usually eating something good she had just baked. I was angry that all these cousins and aunts and uncles were at her funeral – they all lived far away and I didn’t know any of them. I didn’t consider them to be my family and I bristled at the idea that they were just as closely related to MY grandma as I was.
So we all sat in that basement room on the light green vinyl chairs and scratchy orange sofas and waited. The room was completely silent. Every now and then there was a sniffle. I could hardly bear it – the silence, the sadness. In the corner I heard a muffled sound that at first I thought was someone crying – but when I looked over I saw my cousin, Cookie, who was a few years older than me, was completely red in the face, her handkerchief pressed in a ball against her mouth, and she looked like she was about to explode. Her shoulders were shaking and as she wriggled uncomfortable it only took a few moments before I realized she wasn’t crying – she was desperately trying not to laugh. Her mother realized, too, what was happening and she was whispering at Cookie to behave and to ‘Shush”. But of course, trying to hold in a good laugh is about as easy as herding a group of cats – and within moments, Cookie burst into laughter. Even as she did it she said, “sorry, sorry, sorry…” but we knew she was a goner. The laugh had to get out. I looked at each of my cousins then, and bit by bit I could see each of them observing Cookie and trying not to smile themselves…but she really had become a funny spectacle, and one by one they started to giggle. Then the laughter spread to Aunt Vivian, then Aunt Marilyn, my mom, and suddenly the whole room was enveloped in laughter…and that is how Pastor Vetter found us, the grieving family, when he walked in the room.
There were two things I loved about that moment. First, as I looked at Cookie and her round face turning red and her robust laugh – I kept thinking about how she reminded me of someone when she laughed. In a moment I realized she looked just like our Grandma when she laughed. And second, I couldn’t help but think that if Grandma could see all of us in that moment she probably would have been pretty happy. To see the country cousins and the city cousins, the unfolding generations of her offspring just laughing together. It felt like such a blessing and a release to let go of the tears for a moment and see chuckles and smirks, chortles and smiles – a family, though we really weren’t much of one most of the time, brought together that day for a single sad reason, but truly united only in that one random burst of mirth.
You can’t tell me that moment wasn’t holy.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” Brothers and sisters, as we make our way through the challenges and changes of this life, may we be willing to be surprised by joy. God has the victory. This is the day that the Lord has made – let us rejoice and be glad in it!