I went to a funeral today. It was for a lovely man, well-respected, and admired in his family, friends, and profession. All went well (save for a small glitch with the sound system ... remember: sort the sound for services)!
But the funeral got me thinking - most services do these days - about funerals.
(1) They are Occasions: people gather from all parts of local community and wider national life; Christians and non-Christians gather; members of the local church and people from other churches and of no church get together; and the coming together marks a significant binary event of celebration and farewell.
(2) They are Statements: words are used at funerals; quite a few of them; and in a variety of genres. Today we had welcome, hymns, prayers, tributes, readings, a Bible reading, a message of reflection, committal, blessing. In the course of all these words statements were made: about the deceased, the community to which the deceased belonged, the ways things once were, life, death, love, and God revealed through Jesus Christ. But funerals make other statements (super-texts and sub-texts): 'here is the place where we meet with God as community', 'no matter your relationship to God and to the church in everyday life, significant transitions in life may involve God and you without recrimination about how everyday life is working out for you', 'life does not end with death', 'death is significant', and so on. I am sure you can think of others!
(3) They are Encounters with at least the depth of our beings, if not between the divine and the depth of our beings. Tears came to my eyes today. I had lost a friend. The depth of grief was exponentially greater for the wife and children and grandchildren of my friend. Something emotional happened during that service that defies easy description (though some of the great poets do this well). In that emotion parts of our being were exposed, at least to our own sight, which are not exposed when we live scrambled lives of busyness and repetitive routines. The hymns and prayers, the words of Scripture connect that experience with the being of the universe, with God Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life.
So, even without a specific set of words in the service 'preaching the gospel', the mission of God takes place in a Christian funeral service. The Occasion takes people to a place of hearing Statements (explicit, implicit) and enables Encounter with God.
Then we could draw out a lot of implications for preparing funeral services, performing them, and also make connections to pastoring people through funeral services.
But its a little late. So just two observations.
Take the opportunity to lead a funeral service - do not palm it off to another.
Do the best job possible with the opportunity - do not offer it your second best.
New Camaldoli Hermitage
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