There’s just something about those little country churches. Small. Intimate. Simply decorated. No fancy sound systems. No orchestra; not even an electronic keyboard or guitar. And certainly no PowerPoint presentation to display the words to the songs.
This one had just a simple spinet piano, with no microphones to project the music or the preacher’s message; the church was too small to need them. There were about ten rows of old wooden carved pews seating only 6-7 people per row. With hymnals and Bibles nestled in a shelf in front of us. Obviously everyone knows everyone else. Because they’ve been worshipping there for decades. And have probably worshipped there through several different preachers.
This is the type of church I grew up in, as did many of my friends.
The other day we once again visited this quaint little country church to celebrate the life of the 90 year old mother of one of our dear friends, who had advanced to her heavenly reward and joined her beloved husband, who had been called home four years previously.
Sarah Lee and her husband had been married for 67 years when he passed into eternity. Now she is with him once again. Although I’d only met her personally less than five times, I knew her through her daughter, and wished I’d had the opportunity to really have gotten to know her.
She and her husband were blessed with four children, six grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren, and most of them were in attendance to bid her farewell. She had lived her entire life in this little farming community, raising her family, working alongside her husband on their dairy farm, enjoying being a homemaker, doing her share of volunteer activities, and faithfully serving this little church as a teacher, pianist, and eventually as the first female elder in the church.
As we sat there waiting for the service to begin, listening to the pianist playing some of Sarah Lee’s favorite hymns on that old, but well-tuned piano, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of nostalgia for these beautiful country churches with their small congregations. Everyone, including those of us who didn’t know hardly anyone at the service, were made to feel like part of the family, and felt like we had known them all for many years by the time we left.
Sarah Lee’s service reflected her life and the family she had adored. Held in the same church where she and her late husband had been married seventy years previously, it was obviously planned by loving family members who will always remember and honor the matriarch of the family.
A number of flower arrangements were placed around the casket, and one in particular caught my eye. It contained a stuffed Dalmatian and two toy fire trucks, sent from the county fire auxiliary of which Sarah Lee had been a charter member. I couldn’t help but remember a similar arrangement that had graced the floral remembrances for her husband a few years earlier…an
arrangement of flowers in the shape of a tractor, as a symbol of the farm life her husband had loved and been devoted to.
Her son-in-law spoke about the woman he had obviously loved dearly, and recounted the story of how he’d once asked her who her favorite child was, and she’d told him a mother has no favorites. “I love them all equally!” Then he asked her who her favorite son-in-law was. He said she had to think about it for a few seconds before she answered, so as not to leave out anyone, “why, it’s you!” Of course, it was, since he was the only one at the time.
Nine of Sarah Lee’s relatives had formed a family choir for the service, beautifully singing three of her favorite hymns, including one of my favorites, “Amazing Grace”. And how fitting it was to have her three great-great-grandchildren “sing” along at various times; I could just imagine her watching from heaven, and smiling in approval, her beloved husband by her side once again.
As we took the short ride to the cemetery I couldn’t help but remember the last time we’d been on this drive, when her husband had been in that same hearse, which had been led to the cemetery by a huge John Deere tractor, and followed a few vehicles back by another tractor pulling a wagon with a model of a cow on it, each symbolizing the dairy farm he and his wife had worked and loved so much.
It was a small cemetery. Just as I’d remembered from the last time, the headstone already in place and marking the location of Sarah Lee’s husband, the ground already prepared to receive Sarah Lee. No amount of camouflage could disguise the preparations that had been made for the casket to be placed in the ground and covered over, after the graveside prayers had been said.
Watching the pallbearers bringing their precious responsibility to the site, I was reminded of a scene in my own life ten years ago, when my own precious mother was laid to rest. It’s a surreal feeling. You’re there, but you’re really NOT there. Unless you’ve sat in one of those graveside family chairs, you can’t comprehend.
Prayers were said, more tears were shed, for a well-loved mother, aunt, grandmother, great- grandmother, and great-great-grandmother. One by one, each of the pallbearers took off their boutonnieres, kissed them, and laid them on top of the casket; their final duties completed.
It was then time to begin to heal, and continue family traditions with those who were left behind, remembering, and never forgetting this very special woman.
Whether we attend a small rustic country church, a modern lavish cathedral, or something in between, it doesn’t matter where we worship, but Who we worship. Because God is God. He knows our hearts. He knows we love Him. And when one of our loved ones leaves this earth for their next, and final, everlasting life, He knows our pain. He knows our sorrow.
But He also knows how the story ends.
Why did this service at this little country church make such an impression?
Because of its simple, yet poignant, reminders that when our loved ones leave us, we must remember not only the essence of who they were and how much they were loved and will be missed, but, as Sarah Lee’s preacher said during the service, “Death tries to have the last word, but it does not. We belong to God in this life, and in the life to come.” We say goodbye for now, but in reality, it’s “See you later.”
Sarah Lee, we’ll see you later!