In the last two months I have officiated at or participated in four funerals. One every two weeks or so. When you do so many funerals you begin to see similarities and patterns in each. You also are moved to think about your own funeral and what people will say about you when you're gone. So I'd like to share my experiences of these funerals with you and focus in on how faith was the central issue that decided what was done and said at each service.
Now for the most part these were regular Style Funerals. Four funerals for 2 men / 2 women who all died in their 50s (3 heart attacks / 1 of cancer). All had families that loved them and each had had contact in one way or another with the church.
What was interesting about each, however, was how each funeral tried to deal with the passing of the individual. I noticed that each service was different, not because of age, or sex, or culture that each had. No, the funeral services and eulogies were different based on the type of faith that each had displayed during the time they lived. For example:
1. A Life of no Faith
This was a person who gave no thought to faith; didn't know about the things of faith; did not live by faith. This person had a broken life filled with addiction, emotional and physical problems. He died alone and left nothing but sad memories behind. At his funeral people cried out of hurt and regret for the things that might have been but were never realized.
The family hoped that God would be merciful and they prayed that other deceased relatives would take care of him in heaven. The best they could hope for (and what was mentioned often) was that he was at peace now and wouldn't have to suffer anymore.
2. A Life of Careless Faith
This person grew up in a family where Christ was Lord and all the children were trained in the Bible and a life of service and faith to the church. Even at his funeral, his sisters spoke of their on-going faith and the devotion of their parents who had died long ago. But the deceased, while he lived, neglected to follow in the footsteps of his parents, sisters, nieces and nephews as faithful Christians.
Religion, church, faith, service in the name of Christ were things he carelessly avoided - even if they surrounded him through his family's example. He died suddenly in his kitchen and at the funeral the only things said about him and his life were that:
- He loved his family
- He was a good mechanic
- He enjoyed owning a dog
No one mentioned heaven, reward, joy or peace in death for a person who carelessly ignored these things in life. The feeling among the surviving family was sadness, regret and loss for one who was so close but neglected to believe.
3. A Life of Unfinished Faith
This, for me, was the saddest of funerals because it was for a person who had been baptized, had been a faithful member of the church for many years and then, for some reason, stopped coming to church. There may have been a good reason for her to be discouraged, offended, weak, etc. but her way of handling her problem was to stop practicing her faith. This may have been the key factor that also caused her husband and children to fall away from the faith as well.
Her wishes were that no religious ceremony be conducted at her funeral service; so as a result there was a combination of poems, candles, letters and tears. Her eulogy spoke of her garden, how she loved her grandchildren and how everyone will miss her. The person presiding over the funeral mentioned God and heaven but no one mentioned anything about the deceased's faith in God or her confidence in Christ for heaven.
The most hope that anyone mentioned was that God was merciful - that's the best that an unfinished faith can hope for.
4. A Life Full of Faith
This last funeral was conducted for a woman whose life was a testimony to her faith. She suffered from cancer for several years and died at 59 years of age leaving behind a husband of 41 years, three daughters and grandchildren. Although, like the others, she had a funeral service - her's was very different from theirs:
The entire ceremony was designed to celebrate her life of unwavering faith and bring people together to worship God. There were many prayers (not begging God for mercy) but praising God for allowing those there to have known this woman. Her eulogy spoke of her faith and faithfulness; her service to others in Christ's name; her example of faith to her family and friends right to her dying day. The comments and prayers were full of joy, confidence, gratitude, and assurance that the rewards of heaven were now hers - because of her faith!
I left that funeral encouraged, lifted up, more confident to face my own death when it comes.
And so the question that naturally arises from these experiences as far as we're concerned is this: "What kind of Funeral will each of us have?"
We know that each of us will indeed have some kind of funeral because we all will die - but what will be said at our funeral - who will it be for?
1. For someone who never believed? Because no one taught us. Or because we loved the world and sin so much that the light of truth never got in. I doubt this would be our funeral since we're all here at worship this morning. However, it will be the funeral of many of our friends and family if we don't share the gospel with them.
2. For someone who put off believing? I'll believe tomorrow; when I get married; when we have children; when I see the need; when I get better, older, wiser; when I feel like it. Of course this type of thinking does not take into account that God gives us so many hours, minutes and seconds to live and when our time is up for living - so is our time up for believing.
3. For someone who used to believe? The promise of heaven is for those who believe now - at the moment of death - not for those who used to believe. Abraham, David, Peter, Dorcas, Paul and others believed on their deathbeds. They were not perfect, they sinned, they failed, they struggled, but on the day they died - their faith was alive and influencing their lives and the lives of those around them.
The joyful celebration that people have at funerals are for those people who finished their lives as faithful disciples - not people who started faithfully but quit along the way. There's no special joy felt at the passing of Esau, or King Saul, or Lot's wife, or Judas, or Demas.. They all started well but let go their faith before the end and the Bible does not celebrate their lives nor their deaths.
Hopefully, our funerals will be:
4. For people who believed and demonstrated that faith all throughout their lives. If you had to write your own eulogy now - what would it say? If you had to plan your own funeral today - what kind of funeral would it be? Hopefully the main thing that people would say about us would be that we were faithful to the end.
The fact that we loved our families, had a good dog, spent hours at the gym or garden or in the kitchen has no effect on our eternal souls. The only thing that we can do in this life that has influence in the next life..is faith in Christ. The only good, valid, Biblical reason to have a hope in heaven is if we believed or not, and continued to do so until the end.
If this is what is foremost in your life, then your funeral can be a celebration, and those who are left behind can have real hope to see you again one day. People can read all the poems they want and appeal to dead relatives who have gone on before but when it comes to funerals, the one who rose from the dead still offers the best guarantee of eternal life to those of us who must face death one day. He said,
I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.
- John 11:25-26
Note that in this passage Jesus uses the present continuous term "believes". Not one who doesn't believe, or plans to believe in the future, or used to believe in the past. No, the one who believes now and continues to believe until Jesus comes for him - this is the one who will live and never die.
So what kind of funeral do you want to have? You want a funeral for a living person, not a dead one. For a person of faith who believes in Jesus and in doing so will live on after he/she dies.