The Glory of Funerals (by Bill Gernenz)

funeral

Bill blogs at “Broken and Undone.” where this was originally published.

I read a good article yesterday by David Jones over at The Gospel Coalition blog.  The article offered a biblical look at the issue of Cremation or Burial.  If interested, you can read it here.

I do not intend to get into that discussion in this post, but would be interested in hearing your thoughts on that article in the comments section.

What I would like to give attention to is Jones’ comment in his conclusion.  He said,

“…within the Christian tradition funerals aren’t simply ways of disposing of dead bodies, nor are they about remembering the departed or expressing grief. Rather, for believers, funerals ought to be Christ-centered events, testifying throughout to the message and hope of the gospel.” (emphasis added)

That leads me to this question, “Who is to get the glory at a Christian’s funeral?”  Please notice I said, “glory” and not “attention.”  This is not a one-dimensional issue, and (in some respects) this is not an either-or consideration.  But there exists, even among Christians, that the funeral is to be about the loved one or friend who has passed.  Preachers are commended when we “make it about” him or her.  Conversely, in some cases, preachers are chided for “preaching too much” at the funeral.  What’s the answer?

Well, I don’t pretend to be an authority, but there are some convictions that have guided be over dozens of funerals in 8 years as a pastor.

  1. “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”  (Rom 14:8)  The Christian is not his own, he is the Lord’s.  If our lives are to be about giving God glory, then certainly our death should serve that same purpose.  If, like Paul, we make it our aim to die daily, and live for the Lord, then it seems to me that when we die in the Lord that even our remembrance should be centered around His work in our lives.
  2. “Whoever loses his life for [Christ’s] sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35)  This is closely related to the first one, but with a slight shift of focus.  While we live for God’s glory, we are commissioned to share the gospel.  Therefore, our death, our remembrance as a believer is our last plea for others to hear the gospel.  Our funerals are the last chance we have to proclaim the message of reconciliation with the Father.  At our funerals, like Abel, even while dead, we can still speak.  (Heb 11:4)
  3. Our goal is more than remembrance.  While we remember, rightly honor, the one for whom we grieve, our goal is more than remembrance.  We want to comfort and encourage.  I would even go a step further and say that as preachers, our goal is almost fully to comfort and encourage.  Others are more equipped and plenty capable to remember.  We cannot tell the stories of family vacations and touching moments as effectively as those who lived them.  We may allude to them and point to them, but these stories cannot be the substance of our message.  As God’s representative, standing with His Word open, we are to offer real, substantive hope… hope found in the gospel.  Paul wrote to the Thessalonians while they were confused and hurting over those who had “fallen asleep” encouraging them to look forward to Christ’s return.  Mourning lasts for a season, and grief can be holy, but hope is found as we remember that we neither live to ourselves or die to ourselves… and death does not get the last word.

I am certain that there is much more that can be said, but when we consider the funerals of believers, God must get the glory.  That does not mean we preach a full message with an invitation.  What it means is that we put the life of the one remember in the context of the gospel.  They were loving, caring, kind, patient, or whatever because God was transforming them into His image.  Their failing are covered by faith under the blood of Christ.  And the same God that loved and transformed this life that meant so much to us, offers salvation to all who will come to Him.

And on top of all this, we look forward to a day when there are no more funerals, no hospitals, no sickness, and no farewells.  Christ will return for His people and He will reign forever.  Our grief is seasoned with this all-surpassing hope.

No believer is rightly remembered or honored, if after living an life struggling to deny self, we turn around and do just the opposite.

Comments

  1. says

    Excellent!

    Funerals are a great tool for God’s glory to be actually done to someone who has death starring them in the face. The ultimate expression of the Law can now be met by the ultimate expression of God’s Glory…the resurrection.

    Thanks.

  2. Dale Pugh says

    I’m with you on your points.
    As to the Jones article (which may be somehow connected to Ronnie Rogers’ post over at SBC Today from a few days back), I’d say it’s a far stretch for one to argue biblically for burial over cremation as “bringing the most glory to God.” Both men use an approach that falls under the non sequitur category, in my opinion.

    • Dale Pugh says

      Let me add that I do not intend to devote time arguing the Jones or Rogers articles on here.
      Your post follows a line I’ve taken at funerals for years: Preach Jesus.

  3. Christiane says

    For me, one of the most triumphant verses for any funeral would be this one:

    “25 For I know that my Redeemer liveth,
    and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

    26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body,
    yet in my flesh shall I see God:

    27 Whom I shall see for myself,
    and mine eyes shall behold, and not another . . . ”

    This is from JOB 19 and is a regular part of the Anglican funeral service. I think it covers much of what Southern Baptist ministers might want in a bible verse to be read at a burial service,
    and I do know it give hope to the grieving, it honors Our Redeemer, and it confirms our faith so strongly that, even in the midst of the death of a loved one, we can be comforted. It is, in short, ‘triumphant’, and healing at the same time.

    The Book of Job is prophetic, but I also see it as one of those books that is able to touch the depth of our human pathos with words of pure grace at precisely our moment of need.

  4. says

    I’ve noticed something at funerals recently, especially around here when we have what are called “prayer services” (very little prayer takes place; they are mostly a time when family and friends get together and share their remembrances).

    All the talk about heaven is about seeing Grannie and Gramps, and being reunited with dearly departed Buford.

    I can understand that on a human level – we miss our loved ones and want to see them again. But it is also a skewed theology. Heaven is not about our loved ones, but about the One who bore our sins. It’s about Jesus. When we make heaven into a cosmic family reunion, we err from the truth. It’s an understandable error, but an error nonetheless.

  5. Jon says

    Heaven, or the New Jerusalem to be more precise, is a reconiliation of creation redeemed in Christ.

  6. says

    Very good article. It reminds me of when my wife’s great-uncle Troy passed away. The gospel was preached as matter of how uncle Troy lived his life. One of my wife’s cousins came to faith as he listened to that sermon.

    • Christiane says

      “The gospel was preached as matter of how uncle Troy lived his life.
      One of my wife’s cousins came to faith as he listened to that sermon.”

      then uncle Troy was truly ‘of blessed memory’ . . .