Last week, I took the funeral of one of our older Bajan members. He had very recently moved into a care home and, somewhat unexpectedly, died within days of landing there. When I got the call concerning his funeral it was not one I was expecting to take.
Whenever I get such calls, the same thoughts tend to run through my mind. What am I going to say to the family that will offer them comfort? What will I say at the funeral? How will I communicate truth in a way that is respectful and appropriate?
As I came to prepare the funeral, the following things helped me in deciding what to say and how to say it. Maybe they will be of some help to you too.
Remember who you’re talking to
The big thing I try to keep in mind is that the funeral is not for the person who has died (they are not there!) The funeral is for those in the room. It is for the family and friends who have lost their loved one. Knowing that the funeral is for them helps me remember that what I say is ultimately for them too.
Give them what they need most
Fundamentally, funerals exist to comfort the grieving family in their loss. But the greatest comfort we can offer is that of the gospel. There is no better way to be comforted than to receive the Comforter. The way to receive him is to believe the gospel and trust in Christ. If the funeral is principally for the family and friends who are there, what they need most is to hear the gospel. That has to be the hope and comfort that we mainly hold out.
There is no value offering false comfort to anybody. It is important to stick to the truth. If the person who died was a believer, we can speak clearly to where their hope lay. If the person who died wasn’t a believer, or we just aren’t sure, we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Regardless of where the person stood with the Lord, the same gospel that they needed is the very gospel that those in the room also need. If we stick to the gospel, the same hope is held out for all.
We can be wont to try and tell people to hold it together at funerals. We can try to make sure that nobody shows any emotion at all. But death is sad. Even if the person is a believer and they are now with Christ (which is far better), it doesn’t stop us grieving that they are no longer with us and it doesn’t stop us missing them. If Jesus can weep at the death of Lazarus – even though he knew he was going to raise him from the dead a few minutes later – we should acknowledge that it is entirely right and proper for people to feel sad.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
Dissenters don’t tend to like set liturgies. We even less like set, read prayers. Typically, when we preach, we do not want to take other people’s words and treat them like we wrote them. And all that is fine to a point. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with any of those things, but it’s fine to not be keen on them either.
However, when it comes to funerals, it is often better to use forms of words that have been used before. Of course, it’s not wrong to use your own words. But I find, personally, there are forms of words that have a level of gravitas and fitness for the occasion that my self-penned efforts just aren’t going to match. Whilst the eulogy is going to be tailored to the individual, and the sermon will need to be appropriate for the family, it is often worth using other people’s forms of liturgy, prayers, forms of words for the committal and such things. There can be a place for trying to come up with something new, but people often don’t want innovation at a funeral. What they want is to be comforted with the familiar – it is often worth sticking with such things.