I read a good article yesterday by David Jones over at The Gospel Coalition blog. The article offered a biblical look at the issue of Cremation or Burial. If interested, you can read it here.
I do not intend to get into that discussion in this post, but would be interested in hearing your thoughts on that article in the comments section.
What I would like to give attention to is Jones’ comment in his conclusion. He said,
“…within the Christian tradition funerals aren’t simply ways of disposing of dead bodies, nor are they about remembering the departed or expressing grief. Rather, for believers, funerals ought to be Christ-centered events, testifying throughout to the message and hope of the gospel.” (emphasis added)
That leads me to this question, “Who is to get the glory at a Christian’s funeral?” Please notice I said, “glory” and not “attention.” This is not a one-dimensional issue, and (in some respects) this is not an either-or consideration. But there exists, even among Christians, that the funeral is to be about the loved one or friend who has passed. Preachers are commended when we “make it about” him or her. Conversely, in some cases, preachers are chided for “preaching too much” at the funeral. What’s the answer?
Well, I don’t pretend to be an authority, but there are some convictions that have guided be over dozens of funerals in 8 years as a pastor.
- “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom 14:8) The Christian is not his own, he is the Lord’s. If our lives are to be about giving God glory, then certainly our death should serve that same purpose. If, like Paul, we make it our aim to die daily, and live for the Lord, then it seems to me that when we die in the Lord that even our remembrance should be centered around His work in our lives.
- “Whoever loses his life for [Christ’s] sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35) This is closely related to the first one, but with a slight shift of focus. While we live for God’s glory, we are commissioned to share the gospel. Therefore, our death, our remembrance as a believer is our last plea for others to hear the gospel. Our funerals are the last chance we have to proclaim the message of reconciliation with the Father. At our funerals, like Abel, even while dead, we can still speak. (Heb 11:4)
- Our goal is more than remembrance. While we remember, rightly honor, the one for whom we grieve, our goal is more than remembrance. We want to comfort and encourage. I would even go a step further and say that as preachers, our goal is almost fully to comfort and encourage. Others are more equipped and plenty capable to remember. We cannot tell the stories of family vacations and touching moments as effectively as those who lived them. We may allude to them and point to them, but these stories cannot be the substance of our message. As God’s representative, standing with His Word open, we are to offer real, substantive hope… hope found in the gospel. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians while they were confused and hurting over those who had “fallen asleep” encouraging them to look forward to Christ’s return. Mourning lasts for a season, and grief can be holy, but hope is found as we remember that we neither live to ourselves or die to ourselves… and death does not get the last word.
I am certain that there is much more that can be said, but when we consider the funerals of believers, God must get the glory. That does not mean we preach a full message with an invitation. What it means is that we put the life of the one remember in the context of the gospel. They were loving, caring, kind, patient, or whatever because God was transforming them into His image. Their failing are covered by faith under the blood of Christ. And the same God that loved and transformed this life that meant so much to us, offers salvation to all who will come to Him.
And on top of all this, we look forward to a day when there are no more funerals, no hospitals, no sickness, and no farewells. Christ will return for His people and He will reign forever. Our grief is seasoned with this all-surpassing hope.
No believer is rightly remembered or honored, if after living an life struggling to deny self, we turn around and do just the opposite.