When this woman died, her children immediately called me to let me know that she had died. They wanted to have the funeral at the church. Plans were made, and I started to invite current church members to tell me about this woman's life in preparation for the celebration of her life. One member did not give me helpful information. She instead said, "That's hypocritcal. That woman has not wanted anything to do with the church for more than ten years. She got mad and left. Why would she be buried from our church?"
An email arrived today. It is from the granddaughter of two of our former church members who have entered life eternal. The granddaughter is engaged and looking for an officiant for her wedding. I loved her grandparents dearly and presided at both of their funerals. I have not seen the granddaughter since but she has turned to the pastor she knows for a blessing. I cried when I read the email and will do anything I can to be with her on her wedding day - to not only bless her marriage but to honor her grandparents who meant the world to me.
In both cases, there are some people who believe that the church's services are only available to those inside the church. Some clergy and laypeople cannot get past seeing people who return to church for a burial at the end of life or a blessing at the beginning of life whether it is a child or a marriage as nothing short of hypocritical.
And yet I wonder. I wonder if one of the greatest gifts entrusted to us is to offer blessings.
I was sitting in a pew this week at our annual meeting when a woman I have met once or twice before told me about her plans to publish a book of poems. She then reached inside her purse before shoving a journal in front of me - the delicate book where she has placed each piece of carefully crafted art was placed on my lap. "Will you bless it?" she asked. The next thing I knew I had my hands on the fabric covering the journal and was asking God to bless the work inside.
What exactly is a blessing?
When I am denied access to the Lord's Supper at my husband's church, I long for the priest to offer me a blessing. I do not belong in the Catholic Church. I am a stranger inside its walls, but something happens when the priest is willing to bless me. I become included in something larger than myself.
When I am denied access to the Lord's Supper while on my annual retreat at a local monastery, I make sure to sit on the edge of the pew for evening prayer each night. I want to be one of the first people to be sprinkled with the Abbot's holy water. I know it's just water - but it is water that has been blessed and water that I believe can bless me as I turn in for another night.
Both of these acts make all the difference to me in the way I see a church to which I do not belong. Both of these acts have a way of overwhelming me with God's love when a barrier of doctrine would keep me out.
There are enough barriers to the church all around us - physical, spiritual and theological. Why, then, would we deny a blessing at some of the most sacred moments of life - when a child has been born, when a vocation has emerged, when a couple is covenanting to spend the rest of life together, when a person has breathed their last breath?
God, help me to be a blessing by offering blessings to others.