Jef Mallett’s titular character “Frazz” is a janitor, song writer, and triathlete. If you are unfamiliar with his work, it really is great. He is witty, smart, and insightful. To be fair, sometimes too much so as it borders on preaching. You would be forgiven for thinking that this was Calvin and Hobbes in new clothes. Clearly the first strips of this year are heavily influenced by Watterson (but then again, which cartoonist is not today?). In this Sunday’s strip Caulfield, the precocious youngster who dresses as a literary reference every Halloween and clearly idealizes Frazz has this exchange with him.
The fact that Caulfield should know both the Byrds and Ecclesiastes is impressive, but in keeping with this character. What it reminds me of, however, is the clergy member who performed an infant funeral for friends of ours. Their daughter was the same age as ours and we watched her while they went off to the hospital for delivery. There was no sign of anything but a nice easy delivery, just as with their first child. A few hours later the father came by to get their eldest and tell us that the baby had died at birth. They were not a religious couple, in fact she was a very certain atheist while he was part of a 12 step program and accepted that there may well be a “higher power.” Still, they wanted a minister to help with the funeral and we also wanted to offer what condolence we could.
I reached out to a good friend who was a priest in our parish (Episcopal). He met with them, but he insisted that he would use Scripture. They did not want that. I think his position was sound and fine, although I understand if some feel that his was not a “pastoral” response. I then put them in touch with another Episcopal priest I knew who also happened to be the hospital chaplain. He had no issues with excluding biblical language and texts.
We arrived for the graveside service, the only service they wanted, and the priest began a simple service. He then began a brief reading with this words. “A reading from a native American poem. ‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal…” Obviously it was Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
Priest #1 might have taken a more pastoral approach of not reading Scripture, but still remaining with them and helping them through their grief. (He did, in fact, continue to counsel the father for a time.) Priest #2 agreed to not use Scripture, but then lied, using Ecclesiastes while attributing it to “native American” tradition. Who was the better pastor? Who was better serving the grieving parents?
Ecclesiastes is not the easiest book to read and it certainly doesn’t fit comfortably into Jewish and Christian theology without significant thought. Yet it does offer great comfort as the Preacher has wrestled with some of the most difficult issues of life and death. A few verses in chapter 3 would serve nicely as a conclusion to this, I think.
14 I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.