It was hot, as hot as it gets in Florida in the month of August. During the morning I conducted worship services and taught Sunday School. At noon there was a quick lunch with the family. During my time and tenure as a local church pastor, Sunday afternoons were always reserved for naps and crawling into the fetal position and sucking my thumb. I always felt spent on Sunday afternoons. There was rarely anything left, like Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, not even a bone left for the dog, and I was the dog.
On this Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m., a graveside service had been scheduled for a church member who had been the financial secretary for 28 years. She didn’t want a big service, just something short and sweet, and now I was driving in the funeral procession and following the hearse. I thought of Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, going to his corner after the 14th round, telling his manager to "cut me" so he could see out of eyes nearly swollen shut. Rocky had to get off the stool when the bell rang and go after Apollo Creed in the final round. I needed to do something to summon the energy necessary to come off of the stool and give this dear soul the send off she deserved.
I was driving the family Dodge Caravan. The only redeeming value this behemoth had was a 10 speaker custom Bose sound system. I fiddled with the dial until I found what my children would have called elevator music. What I stumbled on was not the theme song to "Rocky" but rather the original version of “The Music Man” and “Seventy-Six Trombones.” As the trombones were added into the score I turned the music up and up and up. By the time we pulled into the cemetery it was going full blast. We pulled to a stop. I stayed in the van to hear the last of the song. I looked to see if the mourners were gawking awkwardly at me. I quickly discerned they couldn’t hear the music that was bellowing from the speakers and pulsating through my veins. The song ended. I was renewed, rejuvenated, and my energy had returned. I was ready for the 15th round. When I got out of the van and stepped into the sweltering heat I immediately felt stunned as if I had been hit in the face with a stinging jab. How could I put on my “funeral face,” appear somber, and put on a mask to hide this renewed energy that had awakened my soul?
It was one of those rare moments when I was able to pull off what was going on with me in “real time.” I read the opening scripture sentences, went through a few prayers, and then began to explain what was going on with me. I spoke about being spent, about finding the radio station, and about being revitalized listening to Seventy-Six Trombones. This funeral, and every one I have conducted since that moment, all of the sudden made perfect sense to me. We march into graveyards with trombones blaring, all Seventy-Six, and all graveyards, because we follow the one who marched out of one.
And so on this day for all the Saints, who from their labors rest, who surround us "like a great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) we offer you, not twenty-one guns, but rather this Seventy-Six trombone salute. We march triumphantly into cemeteries and graveyards because you first marched out of one
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