August 16 – Stopping for the Body in the Box

FuneralFrom the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code:

§ 3107. Drivers in funeral processions.

(a) General rule.–The driver of a vehicle which is being driven in a funeral procession may: Proceed past a red signal indication or stop sign if the lead vehicle in the procession started through the intersection while the signal indicator was green or, in the case of a stop sign, the lead vehicle first came to a complete stop before proceeding through the intersection.

(b) Visual signals required.–The privileges granted by this section shall apply only if each vehicle in the funeral procession displays lighted head lamps and emergency flashers and bears a flag or other insignia designating it as part of a funeral procession.

I’m hardly the first person to notice the decline in civility and recent years. Richard Mouw, the recently retired president of Fuller Seminary in California, has written on just this in a provocatively entitled book, Uncommon Decency: Civility in an Uncivil World.

My particular take on the topic comes from the view one has from my little corner of the world. I do funeral processions, hundreds of them I have done. They usually tuck me in second in line right behind the hearse. Headlights lit, flashers flashing, orange funeral flag with magnetic base safely affixed to the roof of the car, off we go.

Sunset Memorial Park seems to get the most burying business these days, so a funeral procession from LPC heads up Bellevue right through stop sign at Richardson and then left on Maple Avenue until it meets Bridgetown Pike, then on down Bustleton Pike to County Line Road. 7.6 miles and I think nine traffic lights. Some processions are longer than others and we tend to travel a bit below the posted speed limit. Cross traffic can be delayed, what, two or three minutes for a medium length procession.

We are busy people, always in a hurry somewhere, often nowhere. We don’t want to waste two or three minutes sitting an intersection while the light cycles green and then red and then green again. And we can’t move because the cars with their headlamps lit, flashers flashing and orange flags on magnetic bases waving just keep on coming, right through the intersection and against their red light.

From all I can tell from the car right behind the hearse, most motorists seem patient enough, if not happy, to wait while the long line of cars passes by. I wonder if some drivers ponder eternity or their own mortality as the silver Cadillac station wagon with the ornate box in back leads those mourners in their headlamps-lit, flashers-flashiing, orange flag-waving cars towards the grave that’s been readied at the cemetery.

Clearly some motorists aren’t pondering much beyond their own schedule and refusal to be distracted even by death itself. It is not unusual, and increasingly so, to see the hearse itself cut off in intersections or brake suddenly as someone making a right turn does all they can to beat the procession and make it onto Bridgetown Pike before that three-minute delay hits them. I hear horns blast and see that familiar hand gesture made at the hearse driver.

They are still a small minority, but a growing minority, these motorists with no time for death, no thought for the son or daughter, husband or wife; mourners on the way to a final farewell – just for now, we Christians believe – to a life’s companion, a mom or dad who taught love and wisdom, a friend who defined friendship.

My plea to myself and to you is to be willing to stop and wait, quietly, prayerfully, the next time we are inconvenienced by a funeral procession. Pray for the people in the cars behind the hearse and the pastor. Pray that the God of all comfort might comfort them in all their sorrows. Pray that the one whose body is in the box in back of the Cadillac knew and those in the cars that make up the procession know the One by whose love and grace we are assured that the farewell said at the graveside is just for now.