Posts Tagged ‘funerals’

A funeral prayer

May 29, 2012

I offered the following prayer at a funeral today. The prayer reflects our ultimate Christian hope, not merely for life after death, but for life after life after death—or resurrection.

Eternal God, you give us the gift of life. You sustain our lives by your Spirit at every moment. And when our days in this world are finished, you receive us into your presence and prepare us for the world to come. You do this out of that same love by which you came to us in your Son Jesus, that same love that destroyed the power of sin on the cross, that same love that defeated death in resurrection, that same love from which neither death nor life, nor nor anything else in all creation can ever separate us, that same love that our brother Dave can now experience in all its fullness.

We thank you for the blessing of Dave’s life. We thank you that through his life you have helped to make us into the people that we are today. We thank you that we are better people today because you shared his life with us. For that we are grateful.

We are grateful, but we are also profoundly sad. We have lost so much. Comfort us and all who mourn with us. Strengthen us during this difficult season. Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mystery of death, we may understand that while Dave is lost to us for a time, he isn’t lost to you.

As your Spirit bears witness with our spirit, give us the assurance that, through our own faith and baptism, we, your beloved children, will be reunited with Dave in resurrection.

We ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

A difficult funeral

February 4, 2011

I have a friend at a funeral home who has me on his speed dial. He’s a funeral director, and many of his clients experience a death in the family without being connected to a local church. They’ve often fallen out of the habit of churchgoing or have their church membership in another state, and they need a pastor. Even if they’re not nominally Christian—perhaps just believers in God—they’re willing to let a Christian minister solemnize the proceedings.

I take this part of my ministry very seriously. I talk to the families, at least by phone, and gather enough information about the deceased to write a meaningful eulogy. I offer pastoral support. And I proclaim the gospel to a group of people who may never darken the door of a church.

This week, however, I had my most challenging funeral. The deceased was not only not a Christian, he was an atheist who was hostile to religion and church. His wife and children at least believed in God. Before he died, he told them that they were permitted to have prayers at his funeral for the sake of friends and family but not for himself.

How do I create a liturgy that honors him and respects both his integrity and my integrity?

I spent an extra amount of time trying to get it right. I looked at the resources in our Book of Worship for people who don’t profess Christian faith, but they weren’t terribly helpful: they presume that the person professes some religious faith. I did follow its suggestion for scripture. I used Ecclesiastes 3 (“For everything there is a season…”) and the Beatitudes from Matthew 5.

After eulogizing him, I concluded my homily with these words:

Name didn’t believe in God, as you probably know. And I’m sure I would have enjoyed having a spirited discussion with him about that if I could! [People in congregation laughed.] I don’t know whether or not you share Name’s skepticism, but if you do I would gently encourage you to be skeptical of your skepticism. I strongly believe that the way in which Name’s life has been a blessing to your life is a gift from an infinitely loving and merciful God.

May God comfort, encourage, and strengthen you in these days ahead.

The service was very well received. One of the man’s daughters told me, “I just couldn’t imagine the service being any better.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.