According to Wikipedia, a funeral is a ceremony connected with the final disposition of a corpse, such as a burial or cremation, with the attendant observances. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember and respect the dead, from internment to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor. The definition sounds cold and devoid of emotion or the usual feeling we associate with the word funeral.
A more pleasant description might be that a funeral is to help the bereaved to accept the reality of death.
As we enter into the stages of grief, we must first accept what has happened. We associate a meaningful grief experience with the beginning of the healing process. And, it gives mourners the opportunity to come to terms with the reality of the passing of a loved one. This process has been referred to as the Five Stages of Grief
However, for the believer, the funeral should represent much more. It’s an opportunity!
As a pastor, counselor, and life-coach, especially during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been called upon to bring comfort to many friends and relatives across the United States who have been adversely impacted; financially, health wise, and yes, even by the death of loved ones. COVID-19 has dramatically changed our lives and even how we funeralize.
Recently I was asked, what is the purpose of funerals?
Customs vary between cultures and religious groups. Funerals are often shaped by culture and tradition. Common secular motivations for funerals include mourning the deceased, celebrating their life, and offering support and sympathy to the bereaved; additionally, funerals may have religious aspects that are intended to help the soul of the deceased reach the afterlife, resurrection, or reincarnation.
As a pastor who has officiated hundreds of funerals, the purpose of a funeral is clear. It is my opportunity to fulfill The Great Commission. A funeral presents a unique opportunity to reach the lost and reclaim the fallen. It is a time to share the good news of Jesus Christ, that death is not the end for those that believe.
Christian funerals should be a time of celebration for the loved one that transitioned. The departed have moved from labor in this life to the reward of being now in a place of peace waiting for the return of the Lord. My perspective, which is anchored in faith, often puts me at odds with those who hold a more traditional understanding of what should transpire at a funeral.
I see the Funeral or Memorial Service as a Worship experience. And that informs and guides everything that takes place—from the music played and sung, to how the service is led.
“Therefore, as a Pastor, I am called to lead the people in Worship. To proclaim God’s Word as we focus on Christ’s presence and promises. Certainly, the funeral is a special event. But it is one that takes its cue from the biggest event of all: God coming to us in His Word.
That is why the Service is in God’s house; that is why we seek consolation and comfort from His Word. Our hope and joy, our strength and solace are not found in memories—but in means, God’s Word.
The focus of the funeral is not about the legacy one leaves; it is about the eternity one lives—by the faith, God gives us by His grace, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This truth is spoken in love and is a biblical mandate. However, the truth is not always easy to hear. At Christian funerals, I always tell the truth. But telling the truth can get you in trouble!
Often at funerals people lie. The reason they/we feel compelled to say nice things about the deceased comes from the word eulogy. It basically means to say nice things or to praise the dead.
So we employ hyperbole and use platitudes to celebrate the deceased. We will say nice things about people who were not nice. We’ll lie because it makes folks feel better. The reality is, truth is hard for anyone to hear whose reality is not in line with the scripture.
Truth is troubling for the selfish because they are self-serving. Truth is inconvenient for the narcissist because they create their own reality.
Pastor Ezekiel, what are you talking about? What’s your point?
On Saturday my mother died. As a son I am heartbroken. As a believer, and my mom’s Pastor for 25 years, I am admonished by the scripture in Ezekiel 24:16-18 –
“Son of dust, I am going to take away your lovely wife. Suddenly, she will die. Yet you must show no sorrow. Do not weep; let there be no tears. You may sigh, but only quietly. Let there be no wailing at her grave; don’t bare your head nor feet, and don’t accept the food brought to you by consoling friends. I proclaimed this to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did all the Lord had told me to”.
This scripture has provided me with comfort and peace, as well as purpose as I came to grips with the fact that my mother was making her transition. God’s Word was clear, my responsibility is to do the work, spread the gospel.
Recently a family member told me that “we should respect the traditional notion that funerals are the place where truth does not always have a place”.
Both of my parents are now deceased. at one time I pastored them both.
- My father never loved me, sold my car without permission, and kept the money. My mother supported me all my life. My mother made sacrifices.
- My father stole from me. My mother prayed with me and held me in her arms. My mother owned a business and taught me to be an entrepreneur.
- My father was a contractor and gambled his money away and then attempted to borrow from me. My father when confronted about his lack of love for his only son responded in a manner that is too horrible to write about here.
Yet, I continued to treat him in love because the bible says “Be not overcome with evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
When my father died he instructed my sister to not allow me to speak at his funeral because he knew I would tell the truth. I knew that Satan would not want the truth to be told. Many people bought into the lie.
At the funeral, my son was asked to speak. He deferred to me and I talked for about 3-4 minutes admonishing fathers to love their children; for my father never loved me. When I sat down I knew that people, including my sister, were less than pleased with me. Truth can be costly but worthy of the expense.
A couple that was having trouble in their marriage heard me and the husband said to his wife; If that man can be that honest and transparent about his own father, he can help us. They came to me for counseling, accepted Jesus as their Savior, and joined the ministry.
God does not call us to be politically correct. He calls us as servants to obey Him through his word.
Traditions hold a lot of value for some people. However, a former mentor said to me on an occasion that traditions are yesterday’s answers to yesterday’s problems.
I am thankful for the opportunity to travel across the country in ministry. I visit scores of churches. But, I do not make the mistake of thinking that everyone that attends church is committed to Holiness. Funerals are worship experiences that should be centered on truth and righteousness.
When I shared for that 3 or 4 minutes about my dad at his funeral, there were people who were angry with me because of what I said and challenged my mother about it. Her response was that my son told the truth!