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Psalm 16:11. You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
These words are part of the Committal service of The Episcopal Church, used as we place the deceased in their final resting place. Immediately after we say these words, the officiant sprinkles earth on the coffin with the right hand, usually forming the sign of the cross.
So just as we say, “in your right hand are pleasures for evermore,” the officiant is putting dirt in her or his right hand. The juxtaposition is extreme: how can eternal pleasure be squared with an earthy reminder that we are all dust? Perhaps because of this seeming discrepancy, I have had to fight funeral directors for actual dirt. They usually want me to use pre-washed sand, because it’s tidier and doesn’t leave one’s hands dirty. But I prefer dirt, even when it means covering a hand in mud to make that cross.
As we prepare to celebrate what must surely have been an untidy birth of the Word made flesh, we might remember that “fullness of joy” is likely to be messy, and it’s certain to be earthy.
Today the Church remembers Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, c. 342.