It’s not about being morbid, sad or cynical. It is an important but often neglected area of preaching. In 35 plus years of full-time preaching, the count stands at 342 – funerals, that is. I’ve done funerals for babies who were born premature and for people who were almost 100, for AIDS victims and for murder victims, for saints and for sinners. Every one of those 342 was precious to God, and there’s much to be learned from them. And each one was an opportunity for me to reach out to others as a servant of our God. Here’s seven reflections for your consideration.
- Not every faithful Christian gets off “pain free” or with little suffering. Even the penitent thief still had to endure the pain of crucifixion and of having his legs broken (John 19:32). The thief HAD to have the pain to enjoy the assurance Jesus had given that “today” he would be with the Lord in paradise (cf. Luke 23:43; Romans 8:18; Hebrews 5:7-9). See Philippians 1:29 where suffering is mentioned as a “gift,” but it’s one nobody really wants – but few leave this world without coming to know it well (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
- Not every Christian passes the baton of faith on well. Sadly, life’s most important matters can get lost in translation and in communication. Spiritual legacies DO matter! Helping our families get home to God must be a top priority. After all, they are a gift and sacred trust from the Lord. Families are ours for awhile so they can be God’s forever (Psalm 78:1-8).
- Worldliness, materialism, jealousy and selfishness too frequently come to the forefront when one dies. One can only wonder if the rich man of Luke 12:13-21 had family members who at his death thought much like he did while he was alive!
- Family members REALLY do want blessing and personal affirmation from loved ones, especially when there’s been family fractures, pain and estrangement. Many times I’ve seen people travel tremendous distances during one’s final moments, all because they longed to hear and to express such matters of the heart. Flowers really do need to be given to the living, don’t they?
- God can mightily use preachers during funerals to comfort, to instruct, to serve and to remind people of God – His will, His care and His promises. Although it’s a time of grief and sadness, it can also be an opportunity for grace and concern. The spirit of Jesus shown by the preacher and by other Christians can make an immediate impact for good, and maybe even an eternal one. So for those of you who preach – BE THERE as much as possible for the terminally ill and their families. They may remember little of what you actually say, but they WILL remember HOW you did it. Be God’s vessel for good.
- Pray richly and think deeply before you speak. More thoughtless, ridiculously inappropriate and unbiblical things can be said during the occasion of a funeral than can ever be imagined. Passages like Psalm 19:14, Matthew 12:34-37 and Colossians 4:2-6 should be generously and properly applied.
- Be Theocentric (God-centered). While we do speak of the deceased and their life in funerals, that must NOT be all we speak about! We must speak about the greatness, goodness and comfort of God (2 Corinthians 1:3-5; Psalm 145:3; John 11:25). Too many funerals these days have too little of God and His precious word in them. What a tragedy! The very One whose Person and words are needed most by people everywhere is given only a minor or supporting role, but He’s the eternal one and He gives everlasting life!
A number of years ago, I did a graveside service for a man I’d never met. The dealings with the family, as well as the service itself, led to a 77 year old man visiting our congregation who had attended that service. That man eventually was baptized and became a 77 year old babe in Christ! He became a special friend and beloved brother. He became dear not just to my family and me, but to the entire church. He went to be with Jesus a short time back at the age of 82 and I did the funeral. The story just proves the point: the good news about Jesus continues to give people forgiveness and life – even when first heard at a funeral! — Mike Vestal