There is a difference between power and authority; importance and influence. Being a funeral director is about authority and influence. The best example of this is found in a unique story in the bible, but I want to personalize it. When we lived in Michigan, we experienced a kind of hospitality ritual. When people came to your house for a meal or social event, they would take off their shoes upon entering the front door. The reason for this is because, during winter, snow and salt are carried on shoes and boots. This consideration carried over year-round. So, when entering someone’s house, you take off your shoes. Now imagine what would happen if at a dinner party in my home, I suddenly excuse myself from the table and begin cleaning off each pair of shoes or boots and placed them on each person’s feet. Think that would get their attention? Jesus is at the height of his popularity and is with his closest followers. He had celebrity status and a lot of people just wanted to be seen with him. They are all together for a religious ceremonial meal, and everything is going as expected. People have removed their first century Nike’s, sandals and flip-flops and are eating and chattering about what they have been binge-reading on Net-Leviticus when Jesus does something strange. He quietly stands up, goes over to a table and pours water into a large bowl and grabs a towel. He walks back to the table and does something only a house servant would do. He bends down and begins to wash people’s dusty, grimy feet!
In the moment of the greatest recognition of his authority, Jesus sees the bigger picture of needs for each person in the room. He literally lowers himself in a servant’s posture. At the pinnacle of his power, Jesus sheds his robe, the symbol of his authority as a rabbi, and shows what humility looks like. The Jesus-People are stunned and want to put Jesus back on their pedestal. To them, he has cheapened his reputation by abdicating his power. But Jesus has a message for them, “Everyone will want to be close to you, because you were the ones closest to me. You are going to be extraordinarily influential, but don’t forget this night.” The meal crowd struggled to grasp Jesus’ teachable moment. These were ordinary people like you and me who had to overcome preconception and fear. But, later on they would refuse to leverage power for their own sake and understood that they were simply given authority and influence to serve other people.
Isn’t that really what being a funeral director is all about? It is perhaps the most unique and challenging of professions, which requires walking a very thin line between vocation and avocation. The director is compassionate, but always professional, compartmentalizing job and ministry. While we think of the word “ministry” as a church colloquialism, it means simply to meet someone’s physical, spiritual and emotional need. Those outside of the funeral industry are often taken by surprise when catching a glimpse of a funeral director’s work and ministry demands. When meeting with family members for a pre-need or at-need, the Funeral Director is the most authoritative and influential person in the room – but each family member is the most important person in the room. Directors walk them through cost figures and options because of legal requirements to do so. But even in this funeral business, they are looking to the director for more than raw information. They are looking for wisdom and compassion, truth and grace, comfort and strength, all wrapped in professionalism. We recently facilitated a funeral service for a First Responder. I watched in amazement as our funeral director met the needs of all involved. With grief still fresh, the director met with the family and co-workers for seven hours. The next day, that same director worked with local First Responder units to plan and execute the large and complicated funeral service. During those hours of hurt and grief, family and coworkers had emotionally removed their shoes and were vulnerable. This compassionate director had symbolically washed their feet. The director was the most influential person in the room, but each of those mourners were the most important people in the room. I guess it could be said that it was a “Jesus thing”.
Greg Webber Director, Community Care/Aftercare Certified Celebrant firstname.lastname@example.org