On Dimbleby’s black tie, and other reflections on Margret Thatcher’s funeral
April 18, 2013 Leave a comment
Those Brits just have a certain propriety that shatters our unfortunate American cultural disconnect from the past and good customs. David Dimbleby drew some media coverage in the UK over the past week because of his decision to don a black necktie for the television broadcast. Awesome. I endorse black tires for funereal attire and even own such an item. When the need ever arises, I expect it to be displayed around my lifeless neck at the wake.
In England, an undertaker is still called an “undertaker. According to Dimbleby, the company in charge of the corpse has been in the undertaking business since 1789. These are very nicely dressed undertakers, although I do not expect morning coats at my own final services. Hell, I will be lucky to have a funeral, so let’s not lose any sleep over the small stuff.
You learn all sorts of things at a funeral. For example, what kind of middle name is “Hilda?” I bet Thatcher’s haters would have had some fun with that if they only knew. The good bishop pointed out correctly the difference between a memorial service and a funeral. Thatcher clearly wanted the latter, which ceremonially demonstrates our common fate, our common destination in the grave, our sorry human condition, the shared need of a savior, and the holy Christian hope of resurrection and eternal life. It was a complete delight to learn that Thatcher seems to have had an excellent theological handle on the Doctrine of the Church, and our relationship with one another and Jesus in his own mystical body.
Here is an important liturgical addendum. Prime Minister David Cameron’s New Testament reading from John 14 continued all the way through the final verse. The phrase sometimes omitted in high-profile Episcopal services concludes, “no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” It is exclusivist language concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. High marks for the liturgical powers that be for doing what should be done at any Anglican funeral under all circumstances.
None of that memorial service nonsense for old Lyncho, and “celebration in remembrance” is even worse. Have you seen the dreadful ads from a very shrewd local business seeking to discourage people from decent traditional funerals? These rites can be expensive, and I am sorry to see the development. My advice is to pre-arrange. Undertakers, -errrr funeral directors, are professional people who can handle that kind of thing. Let me add that, if I should be found worthy of a funeral, and if any of you should be disposed to spend part of your day on me, please dress appropriately; muted colors, coats and ties, skirts (and perhaps even hats) for the ladies. (No kilts. I hang with some pretty weird types.) For the love of all that is good and right, it is a funeral. Also, let there be a big old Anglican thumbs-up for black liturgical vestments and a deep sigh for the namby-pamby, wishy-washy, gishy-goshy, weaklings who have substituted white for the more traditional color of death. This modern innovation tends to the error of universalism and a false belief that everybody is ultimately delivered to wherever neo-pagans think nice people end up. That is certainly a serious lie and needs correction.
The BBC coverage was way above average. Something rather odd was built into the process and it provided an interesting moment. The professional undertakers discretely delivered the remains to a chapel near the beginning of the procession. Cameras were allowed inside for a private moment when clergy prayed over the coffin before the military bearers arrived. In another circumstance, the high ambient noise would have prevented one from hearing the noise associated with the lifting of the coffin and resting it on the young men’s shoulders. It is rather noisy and one hears all of the orders. It is not “left, right,” but “inside, outside.” I wonder why we in the USA generally do not see a casket carried on the shoulders?
Finally, the protesters are a silly lot and completely out-of-line. For the love of might, the woman is dead. On this day or all days, leave her alone. At the grave, we stand united in grief and fallen humanity. Christians stand united in “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.” So be it.