Friday, February 14, 2014

A Pastoral Concern: The Christian funeral

I don't care who you are; you are going to have a funeral one day.  People dream about their wedding day.  Likewise, we even think about what our funeral will be like.

In many cases, thinking about our funeral is just plain narcissism.  We want to think about how much people will cry over us, tell stories about how great we are, and gush over us.  And to be fair, that probably happens for most people after they die (not that they are there to witness it).

The Christian Church also plays a role in the funeral for those who confess the Christian faith.  But the pastor and the surviving family members are often at odds concerning what the funeral should be.

The family often wants to take time at the funeral to tell their stories, read poems, sing songs, etc...  It can get to be quite a parade of eulogies and performances, all to honor the one who has died.  Such affection for the loved one is understandable.  After all, it is not one's enemies who come to the funeral, but friends and family.  It is also healthy and soothing to share the stories.  There is a good reason we tell the stories.  We loved that person.  We wish we still could have time with that person.  And so we remember that person with stories and laughter and tears.

But what is the purpose of the Christian funeral?  Is it to tell stories?  Is it to hear eulogies?  That is becoming more and more common in Christian churches.  Everyone wants to have their say.  And the pastor becomes just the next person with something to say.

Perhaps the biggest problem is rooted in this: People confuse their own affection of their loved one with God's judgment of their loved one.  They simply assume their loved one goes to heaven because they think he should.  That's why they would rather hear their own stories than to hear God's promises.

The Church is not here to give eulogies.  The Church speaks for Jesus and proclaims his word.  The Church has no license to say anything different.  The Christian funeral offers an amazing opportunity to point people to Jesus and to his promises.  The Christian funeral is the deceased Christian's last chance to have his loved ones hear the confession he lived and died in.  It is the chance for people to hear of the confidence and joy we have even in the moments of deep sorrow.  It is the chance for the loved ones to hear how Jesus Christ has secured the eternal life of the one who has died.  Death does not have the last word.  Jesus does. 

It is important that we let the Christian funeral be its own time.  It is a time to remember that we are all dust, and to dust we will return.  It is a time to remember that all are sinners, and that our only hope is Jesus Christ.  It is a time to proclaim God's comfort in a Savior who lived the life we need, who died the death we deserve, and who conquered death by his own resurrection.  It is a time when the Christian faith gives a real comfort and a solid hope when all seems lost.  Why would we want to cloud that up with poems and stories?

Let the Christian funeral be the Christian funeral.  Let Christ be proclaimed.  Let God's promises be heard.  Family and friends will always have time to tell their stories and remember their loved one.  But our memories do not save anyone.  Jesus Christ does.  Let him have his say.  It is the only real comfort we ever have, and especially in death.

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