When we allow ourselves to face death with our faith, we find that life becomes more urgent and meaningful and can help us live more intentionally.
“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the tomb” (Book of Common Prayer, Pg. 500)
At the heart of the Christian faith, however, is the story of how God did not shy away from the problem of death but conquered it. When we allow ourselves to face death with our faith, we find that life becomes more urgent and meaningful and can help us live more intentionally. Here are three things to consider when talking about funerals.
What Is The Purpose Of A Funeral?
Increasingly funeral homes are offering customized and individualized packages for funerals. You are more likely to hear the phrase “celebration of life” or “memorial service” instead of funeral or burial. What these growing trends tell us in part is that for many, a funeral service is primarily about celebrating and remembering the one who has died.
Christian burial certainly has elements of a celebration of life or memorial. We do want to celebrate the life of our loved ones, and there is no doubt a place for personalization through the words of a preacher or a eulogy given by a family member. But more than a time of remembering, Christian burial is the gathering of the church to worship God who held this person in life and carries them even through death. Christian burial is a proclamation of the hope we share in Jesus that through his cross and resurrection, death has been defeated. Check out what the Book of Common Prayer says about the burial service on page 507.
When Should You Plan a Funeral?
Today! It is never too soon to plan for your funeral. Planning your funeral may feel like a morbid task that you would prefer to put off until later, or maybe you may not want to do it at all. However, planning a funeral ahead of time is important, both practically and spiritually. It can often be difficult for families in moments of grief to make decisions for their loved one’s funeral. So, in a practical way, planning your funeral in advance helps family members know exactly what scripture you want to be read, what hymns to be sung, and who you would like to participate in the service. Having these decisions ahead of time can help ease the stress of decision making.
Even more than these practical benefits planning your funeral can, instead of being a morbid chore, be a profoundly moving spiritual exercise. When planning your funeral, you have to choose Scripture lessons and hymns that are important to you. Having to make these decisions yourself can help you reflect on who God is in your life and what is essential to your spiritual journey. This can be a meaningful activity for youth as well as adults.
What If I Cannot Be At The Funeral?
As I am writing this, we are still in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic that is necessitating social distancing protocols. These days most funerals are limited to ten people. Even when we are not dealing with the difficulties of a pandemic, the complexities of modern life can make it difficult for some to attend a loved one’s funeral. Here are a few ways you may join in a funeral at a distance.
If you are unable to attend in person, you may want to take some time to pray for your loved one and those who are grieving. The Book of Common Prayer has some prayers for the dead beginning on page 503. You may also consider having another funeral later on. Some parishes, especially more high church ones, may offer Requiems (traditional funeral mass) on the anniversary of someone’s death. You may include their name in a necrology for a service on the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, commonly called All Souls (November 2nd). All of these are ways that we can continually hold our loved ones in prayer. The catechism in the Book of Common Prayer teaches we pray for the dead, “because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God’s presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.” (BCP Pg. 862).
You can find a general, three-page funeral planning document here.
Fr. Eric Grubb received an M.Div from Virginia Theological Seminary in May of 2019. He currently serves as Assistant to the Rector at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Waxhaw, North Carolina.