Funeral/Memorial Service/Celebration of Life
Those are all words that mean different things to different people. Essentially similar, they are events precipitated by death and usually take place in a church, a funeral home or a cemetery.
Early in my ministry I dreaded conducting a funeral service, which is the term we used in those days. Today, at a much different stage of life and ministry, I see these events as opportunities for heart to heart conversation with those in attendance about topics that truly matter to every person. So while I don’t look forward to funerals, neither do I dread conducting them.
When I attend a funeral or memorial service or celebration of life I listen closely for answers to questions about the nature of life, death, eternity, heaven, hell, sin, grace, hope, assurance and resurrection. And when I conduct one, I take great care to address these fundamental questions.
These days of my life, I’m more likely to attend than to conduct. When the service is nothing more than nice words about the nice guy in the large or little box that becomes the visual and emotional focal point for attendees, I leave the church or funeral home or cemetery with some emotions:
- Sorrow for the loved ones of the deceased, who received little, if any, lasting comfort.
- Regret that those in attendance left with as many questions as they had when they came.
- Sadness that unbelievers in the audience didn’t hear the precious word of Christ’s love.
- Anger at a wasted opportunity to influence eternally at an impressionable moment.
- Frustration that the pastor didn’t comprehend the real needs of the people at his feet.
- Concern that this might be the only opportunity for someone to hear the Gospel.
My words of encouragement to pastors who conduct a burial service are these:
- Don’t be afraid to talk about death, including the inevitability of your own.
- Remind attendees that they, like the deceased before them, will end up in a box.
- Address from the crucible of experience the miracle of life and the mystery of death.
- Freely quote from Scripture what God says about life after death.
- Carefully distinguish Law and Gospel, using both to touch lives and hearts.
- Pray fervently for the Spirit’s movement in those lives and hearts.
In so doing, a funeral or memorial service can truly become a celebration of life!
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!