Reflections on a Funeral Service

by Wayne S. Walker

Several years ago I had the unpleasant task of attending and participating in the funeral service of a relative. It was not difficult from the standpoint that the deceased was an evil person, for such was not the case. Rather, the distressing aspect was due simply to the sorrow of loss that pervaded the atmosphere. As I saw the effect that the departure of a loved one had on the family (feeling myself the bereavement as part of the family) and meditated upon what the Bible says about death, some thoughts came to mind that I would like to share.

First of all, a funeral is certainly a time of sadness. As the wise man Solomon wrote, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven....A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance..." (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4). There is nothing unbecoming or disorderly with weeping when a loved one departs. It is a very natural and acceptable part of our acceptance of such a loss as that.

Even Jesus wept at a funeral (John 11:35). Why? Did He not realize ahead of time that Lazarus's death was only temporary and that He Himself would raise him shortly? Surely! But our Lord also knew "him that had the power of death, that is, the devil," and could therefore sympathize with "them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14-15). Our Lord wept because He felt all the pain of grief that came when He "was made flesh" (John 1:14).

Why do we thus sorrow? It is because of the finality of death. "It is appointed unto a man to die once, and after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Think about what the death of a child means to its parents whose love conceived it, who reared it and provided its physical and spiritual needs (II Samuel 12:15-19). Think about what the death of parents means to a child who was brought into the world through them, was tended by them when he was sick, and has been under their guidance (Genesis 24:67). Think of what the death of a sister or brother means to those who have grown up with that person, dwelt in the same house together, and shared the same childhood experiences (John 11:20-32). But most of all, think of what the death of a spouse means to one who has lived with, loved, and cared for him or her (Genesis 23:1-2). Death is our enemy because it brings separation (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Yet, in spite of this sadness, a funeral can, secondly, be a time for joy. Many of the diseases or accidents that ultimately cause death produce a lot of anguish and agony in the process. And this, in turn, creates grief and heartache for those who must watch it. But a funeral indicates a release from physical suffering for those who have been in pain (Philippians 1:21-23). "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth...that they may rest from their labours" (Revelation 14:13).

In addition, for those who die in the Lord, a funeral reminds us of the hope of resurrection. "The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28-29). Those who are children of God want, like Paul, to "attain unto the resurrection of the dead" (Philippians 3:11). That is, we desire the resurrection of eternal life and hope for our fellow Christians to do likewise. So while death brings separation, resurrection means reunion.

However, the only basis for this hope is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16). This gospel has been revealed (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). In addition to His death for our sins and His burial, it tells
us of Jesus's resurrection from the dead as "the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). Then based upon this greatest fact of all history, we are promised ultimate victory over Satan and all spiritual enemies, including death (1 Corinthians 15:50-57). What great spiritual blessing for those in Christ (Ephesians 1:3)!

But, in the third place, a funeral should always be a time of thinking. Solomon wrote, "It is better to go into the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth" (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4). The reason why the house of mourning is better is that a funeral makes us consider our own lives.

One thing it will teach us is to prepare for death ourselves. We know death is coming. "The days of our years are threescore years and ten....It is soon cut off, and we fly away" (Psalm 90:10). But we have no idea exactly when it shall happen, for "ye know not what shall be on the morrow" (James 4:13-15; cf. the rich fool of Luke 12:16-21). If we want to "die the death of the righteous," we must first live the life of the righteous (Numbers 23:10)!

Jesus told us what to do to prepare for death and eternity in Mark 16:16. "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." This is a very simple plan. Peter reiterated it in Acts 2:38. "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." If you have not believed, repented, and been baptized, you are not prepared to face Christ in judgment. And if you have done that but have fallen away, you need to seek the Lord's forgiveness (1 John 1:9). "Prepare to meet thy God" (Amos 4:12).

In conclusion, please read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. When the death of a child of God occurs, Christians sorrow, but not as others, those in the world, who have no hope. Jesus is coming again, the dead shall be raised, and the living will be changed. Those who are in Christ will then rise to meet the Lord in the air, "and so shall we ever be with the Lord." When it comes time for your funeral, will you be a faithful Christian, or will you be one who has died having no hope?