Funeral Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Funeral

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Properly understood, funeral refers to a service of the resurrection hope of the Christian faith as seen in light of the commemoration and committal of the deceased. More broadly speaking, the term funeral can be used to refer to any religious service after the death of an individual.

In Scripture

Joseph "The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem, in the portion of ground that Jacob had bought from the children of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for one hundred pieces of money; it became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph" (Josh. 24:32).

David and Bathsheba's child "[David] said, `While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, "Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live." But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me'" (2 Sam. 12:22 - 23).

Job's hope "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!" (Job 19:25 - 27).

The house of the Lord "One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple" (Ps. 27:4).

Back to dust "You turn us back to dust, and say, `Turn back, you mortals.' For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night" (Ps. 90:3 - 4).

From death to life "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live" (John 5:24 - 25).

We are the Lord's "We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's" (Rom. 14:7-8).

Grieving with hope "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13).

Death will be no more "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, `See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away'" (Revelation 21:3 - 4).

Points to Ponder

Hope in the face of death. The picture throughout Scripture is of hope in the face of death. However we commemorate the life of the deceased, we do so with an awareness of the hope of eternal life and the promise of the glorious resurrection. While David put off mourning after the death of his son (2 Sam. 12:22 - 23), Paul acknowledges that believers will grieve the loss of their loved ones, albeit in a way different from the rest of mankind (1 Thess. 4:13). The psalms acknowledge the frailty of human life (Ps. 90:3-4) and the hope of living in the presence of God (Ps. 27:4). The promises of the Old and New testaments alike confirm the faithfulness of God to the covenant promises (Josh. 24:32) and the promised hope of eternal life, both individual (John 5:24 - 25) and cosmic (Rev. 21:3 - 4).

Funeral vs. memorial service: Many people perceive the funeral as a negative emotional experience. Parishioners may say, "I don't want a funeral. I want a memorial service." Or, "I want a celebration of life, not a reminder of death!" Within this, pastors should consider two opposite pulls. On the one hand, we should wonder what it is about our funerals that parishioners wish to avoid. Are we failing to preach the good news of eternal life? Then perhaps the push against "funerals" is somewhat warranted. On the other hand, we also recognize that contemporary culture is uncomfortable with death. In our attempts to avoid public grief, we can be tempted to avoid the reality of death that faces us. The funeral can and should be a time to gently and pastorally create space for public grief.

The valley of the shadow of death: Ronald Nydam, former professor of pastoral care at Calvin Theological Seminary, would speak of the movement of the funeral as following the valley of the shadow of death. In the funeral service, pastors walk with their parishioners into the darkness of death. We acknowledge the reality of pain and sorrow. We may mourn tragic circumstances surrounding the death. The funeral begins an upward climb, however, moving toward the resurrection and hope. While pastoral sensitivity may dictate a slower pace for moving toward hope, the Christian funeral must be a service of hope and good news.

Cremation? As concerns about the amount of space consumed by cemeteries come to the fore, cremation is becoming a more common practice. Some parishioners may express concern over whether this is acceptable Christian practice. 1 Corinthians 15:37 suggests that our earthly bodies are akin to a seed of our glorious resurrected bodies. While we know very little about our eternal bodies, we do know that God is capable of raising the imperishable from the perishable (1 Cor. 15:42), and we have nothing to suggest that the perishable body must be intact for this to be the case.

Differing funeral practices: Funerary practices vary widely from region to region and from tradition to tradition. A parishioner may be surprised to learn that in your congregation it is common practice for the family of the deceased to host a lunch after the funeral while someone else may be shocked that the lunch includes anything other than deli meat on buns. The sensitive pastor will be aware of these differences and should work hard to come to understand local funerary practices.

Not a church function: In the Reformed tradition, funerals are not technically a function of the church. Pastors and the congregation are invited to participate in what is otherwise a family affair. In light of that, pastors can suggest features of the funeral, but should defer to the family's decisions.

On viewing the body: "It's important to attend funerals. It is important to view the body, they say, and to see it committed to earth or fire because unless you do that, the loved one dies for you again and again."

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.