A Christian Funeral
Dear BPCWA worshipper, Besides the situation where our Lord returns and raptures His living children to Himself, death is inevitable for us on earth. Rich or poor, royalty or beggar, young or old, no one can escape when their time on earth is over. No one really knows when they’ll die, though that day of death is already fixed, “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass” (Job 14:5). Have you ever thought of how to help your family prepare to be ready after you depart? If so, what Biblical instructions must you give to your family now? Or as part of the bereaved family of a Christian, how do I arrange for a funeral of a loved one? I hope this pastoral helps to give our worshippers a quick summary of what to do and what to expect.
What should a Christian funeral service be? 1) It must glorify God, not man. “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” (Php 1:20). To magnify Christ even in death must be the desire of every Christian. Even in death, Christ should be magnified. Unbelievers, who will not glorify God, will glorify man. Funerals are often organised to maximally glorify man rather than God. Give instructions that God’s glory will not be stolen by you even after you have passed on to heaven. It should be a celebration of God’s work in your life or your loved ones’ life, not a celebration of human achievements. 2) It must be in obedience to bury, not cremate. Death is not the end of obedience for a Christian. In fact, the final step of obedience at death is what we can ensure as much as possible. We have covered in detail the Christian imperative for burial, as compared to the more recent (yet more popular) heathenistic cremation. A recording of this is available on our church’s YouTube channel, available at bpcwa.org.au/youtube. As much as possible, Christians should make their last will known – to obey God by being buried in the ground, “for out of it wast thou taken” (Gen 3:19). 3) It must be a worship of God. Knowing then that even as our bodies shall “return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecc 12:7), the great redemption story of praise must be what characterises the funeral of the Christian. This must be clear in the minds of everyone involved. As Christians, the only reason we can say “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor 15:55) is because of Christ’s work for us. The funeral service must be seen as a worship service, ie to the praise and glory of God who called, saved, and led His child on earth and all the way to heaven. Hence, the services should reflect reverence and love in the worship and thanks to the Triune, Holy God and our Saviour Christ who has purchased our redemption by the sacrifice of Himself. Only such a service would sufficiently reflect the heart of a redeemed soul who, even while his body lies still in the coffin is at that point of time, is in spirit standing in the awesome presence of His Creator. This is also why the service is a wonderful gospel opportunity for relatives and friends to know about our God and Saviour. In a sense, the funeral service is the last evangelistic Gospel opportunity even in death for God’s children.
The various services. Several services that can be conducted, depending on the family’s request. 1) The Vigil service is typically a service conducted at night, a day or so before the burial. This is often principally for friends and relatives who due to work obligations may be unable to attend the funeral service. However, it is not unusual that families choose not to have this, so as to reduce added strain at a difficult time. 2) The Funeral service is held at the parlour, prior to the departure of the casket to the cemetery. 3) The Graveside service is a committal of the body to the ground. It is important to remind all worshippers that these 3 services are worship services that call us to the remembrance of God’s work and mercy in the life of the Christian. Hence, the time from the Opening of the service to the Benediction (marking the close of the service) should be attended with the same seriousness and order as we would our worship service. This is also the reason why the order of service is designed by the church to reflect a worship service.
Planning a funeral service. To help our worshippersknow what to expect during the funeral, how to plan for it, and what BPCWA does in conducting the funeral services to honor God, our bereavement ministry has prepared a bereavement booklet. This was distributed at a Seniors Fellowship meeting last year. While recognising that families are often in periods of grief while planning for funerals, we cannot treat the services as secular programs, but must maintain the holiness of the worship service. The church does not insist on conducting the funeral service(s) of a member, but if we do, then we have the responsibility of ensuring that the funeral is conducted in a manner befitting the honour of God according to His attributes. In the hope of avoiding requests that we have to turn down, this is one of the reasons why we have produced the bereavement booklet. To ensure a God honouring funeral service, the church plans and conducts the whole service, including the playing of the hymns. While most churches do not, we have chosen to print the Service booklet at this point in time as well, as part of the services undertaken by the Bereavement Ministry. This helps as an easy reference for everyone, as both the hymn lyrics and the KJV Bible verses which are used are printed in it. Additionally, those in this ministry also take the personal sacrifice by going in to the parlour early to bring down our church keyboard and have it set up there on the day of the service and arrange the background music before the service. They often need to take a day’s leave from work in order to do so. It is important to note that the religious service is concluded by the Benediction. After the religious service is over, the family can choose to have their own program, as some have done by having eulogies and montages. These are not part of the worship service and so the music, video, and the person(s) who give the eulogy are at the liberty of the family. Should the family wish a friend to come up to read a passage of Scripture, they can do this after the Christian service is concluded, as part of the family program, but not as part of the religious service.
I hope this gives all worshippers a brief understanding of what happens at a funeral service. Needless to say, I am also thankful for those who also take the time to comfort the bereaved. For every funeral that we attend, God intends it to be a stark reminder to the living of our own mortality. That one day, we too shall lie lifeless in a coffin. Although your body is lifeless, the spirit lives on – either in heavenly joys with your Redeemer, Jesus Christ, or in the eternal torments of hell where the fire is never quenched. Are you sure of where you will be after this short, short life on earth?
Eccl 7:2 It is better to go to 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.
Yours in our Lord’s service,