Where have all the funerals gone?

Let me make this abundantly clear: when I die, I die. I will not pass away. I will not pass on. I will die. My soul will leave my body and wait. My body will likewise wait. I, in my body and soul, shall wait for the resurrection of the dead, as promised by Christ my Lord.

Let me also, in absolutely unequivocal language, state that upon my death I will have a funeral. This is non-negotiable. It will be done in the church, and it will not be over until my body has been placed in the ground.

I just received an email from a churchly source that should know better announcing a death and informing the reader that the “Celebration of Life” service will be held in the next days. It’s stuff like this which has me actually considering the merits of simply going mad.

What, gentle reader, are we suggesting with a “Celebration of Life” service? Could it be, perhaps, that when one “passes away” it is most vital that we look back and share and ponder in our hearts all the wonderfull things they did? Sure! Let’s focus on what an upstanding member of the community–nay, of the church!–the person was. We’ll treasure the memories, for in these we–we–grant them life after death. “I just know that he’s up there watching over me now.” And of course we’ll do it without that nasty corpse. We don’t want to go mucking about with dead bodies. Let’s get rid of it beforehand. Bury it or burn it, whatever. Just don’t have us look at it. And we absolutely do not want it anywhere near our “Celebration of Life” service. God knows that would only remind us of that icky, nasty death. Instead let’s surround ourselves with pictures of happy times, when the late So-and-so was doing thus-and-such. This is how we choose to remember him.

Given the enormity of sin, is there anything more futile in death than to celebrate the sinner’s life? The fact that they are now dead pretty much tells you what, ultimately, there was in them to celebrate. And why must we celebrate at all? It’s a death, for crying out loud.

I have a little more sympathy with tearing one’s clothes in mourning or anger. Stuff like this just makes me want to break something. We take the teeth out of death, we take the comfort out of resurrection. We stop talking about death, we stop talking about resurrection. The more euphamistically we talk about the Final Enemy, the more generically we talk about the Conquering Savior. We fear pain and suffering so much that we’ve removed these from our dealings with death. We’re not going to mourn Edna’s bodily death. We’re going to celebrate the life she lived before that point. We’re just going to ignore that ugly death thing as much as we can. Obviously we can’t totally block it out. There is that hole in our lives now where she used to be. We’ll just comfort ourselves with her memory instead of being comforted (passive!) by the promised resurrection.

Death is bad. Mourn it. Loss is hard. Mourn it. Resurrection is the last word. Look for it.

An actual funeral gives us a chance to do just that, and to be comforted with the promise of the resurrection yet to come by the merits of Jesus Christ. For the sake of the saints of God, let’s stop avoiding the ugly parts of life and thereby robbing ourselves of God’s comfort, rich and full.

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2 Responses to Where have all the funerals gone?

  1. A says:

    I’ve attended (not officiated at) several funerals lately. The thing that I have noticed over and over again has been the lying that goes on. People stnad up to say a few words about the deceased, and they say, “These aren’t tears of sorrow but tears of joy.” (BS is my internal response). There is a lot of talk about being in heaven, and seeing the dead person again there. Blah, blah, blah. I suppose on some level its comforting, but it seems to me to rob people of the chance to say, “Look, I’m really mad right now because of the death of so-and-so. I need to grieve, not deny my feelings. I need to have a space where I can be completely and totally me – mad, angry, sad, and be safe. I don’t need any “shoulds” like, ‘you should be happy,’ because I’m not. Let me be mad, and let whatever comfort comes to me right now be real comfort, and if I don’t get that comfort right now, let me be for a while, and try comforting me again later. Hey – I might never be comforted. As a matter of fact, I will never be completely comforted as long as this rift remains.”
    THat’s what I imagine my own response to the death of a very close relative or friend might be. I agree with you – if I wanted pictures, I would sit in my living room and look through albums. I want space. That’s why I go to church.
    Peace.
    Andrew

  2. Loretta says:

    We Lutherans have never been very good at grieving, almost as if grief in itself were a sin of lack of faith.
    Another problem that has come up in recent years is that funeral homes have deliberately made is so expensive to move the body to what they consider to be an unnecessary location that people without means available do not have the body brought to the church and the funeral then takes place at the funeral home.

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