Words are like people. We often pass by them in casual indifference, unaware of their strange beauty and prophetic resonance.

C.S. Lewis, one of my most beloved authors, noticed words.

He opened my eyes to two in particular. First is the Middle English word solempne. The true meaning of this word, Lewis argues, has been lost in modern English. The word solemn is related: “Like solemn it implies the opposite of what is familiar, free and easy, or ordinary. But unlike solemn it does not suggest gloom, oppression, or austerity” (A Preface to Paradise Lost).  Some things that evoke solempne are great ceremonial feasts or stately balls, Easter celebration, or a mass by Mozart or Beethoven which has “as much a solemnity in its hilarious Gloria as in its poignant crucifixus est.” The second word is Pomp, which has, in modern usage, attained a negative connotation. When someone is described as “pompous” it usually means that they are conceited. The original meaning of pomp, however, is associated with “a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people who enjoy them … the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet [clothes] to be happy in.”

Yesterday afternoon I waited in the sanctuary for the beginning of Philip’s funeral. His casket sat in front of the altar, covered with a white brocade cloth. His picture shown on the wall. It was my favorite, the one of him and Ginger. In this moment he turns to look at her, adoringly, and she looks out at the world, beaming, with laughter spilling forth.

We all rose for the procession of the cross. As the priest walked down the aisle, he read the liturgy, from Scripture:

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live …

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shalt stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God …

These solemn rituals and ancient words comforted us. They gave us a firm foundation on which to mourn.

It occurs to me that Philip rightly understood solemnity. He worked hard, worshipped devotedly, served constantly. But he also celebrated, played, joked. And oh how he laughed – long and heartily – and spread laughter around him like a delightful aroma.