I’m not a subscriber to the “every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings” theory from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but I couldn’t help but think about that line while attending a funeral on Tuesday morning.
A friend’s 93-year-old mom passed away late last week, so I attended her funeral. It was held in a Catholic church that began as a Polish parish in 1919. It started as a Polish parish because this particular section of Omaha became home to a large group of Polish immigrants at the time. So, as the neighborhood was built, and as people of Polish descent found jobs and moved in, this particular parish was just part of the community.
Back then, church buildings were often erected directly in neighborhoods, rather than in the suburbs – both of which are probably reflections of the way society viewed the church in each respective generation.
A hundred years ago, church life was a welcome and accepted part of neighborhoods. Today, we tend to push churches to the suburbs to keep them at arm’s length. This may say as much about us, as a church, as it does about the changes that have taken place in American society.
Since I live just a few blocks away from the church where the funeral was held, I often hear the church bell chime at the top of the hour on particular days or holidays and I always find comfort in that.
As the priest finished the funeral service on Tuesday, the church bell began to chime. Silence filled the sanctuary, and, as is often the case, the finality of the situation settled in on family and friends. For a moment, the chimes were all we could hear. And if the chimes could have spoken, here’s what I believe they would have said.
“We mourn the loss of one of our congregants.”
“We celebrate her life.”
“We look forward to the resurrection.”
I didn’t look at my watch at that moment, but it was an odd time – maybe 10:08 a.m. or so. It was so odd that neighbors would have known something special was going on inside because the church bell doesn’t chime at such a time otherwise.
Maybe that prompted them to glance out their windows, and once they did they would have seen the hearse and realized that the church bell chimes marked the end of someone’s life. Maybe they even paused for a moment to reflect on the life of the person they never knew, or on their own mortality.
Either way, it’s a bittersweet reminder of the way the church at large used to speak to its community in even the subtlest of ways, reminding them that life here on earth is but a vapor and consequently, now is the time to settle accounts with God.