Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Where I am, there ye may be also"

No doubt because of the deaths of my parents I have been thinking more than I did previously about what funerals are about. Christian funerals are not primarily about remembering. They are about that, but they are also about hope and anticipation. And the answer to grief, for believers, is not to concentrate on how we are feeling or what we have lost, but on what we believe and what the Scriptures promise. From Michael P. Orsi's review of Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral:
Thomas G. Long, Professor of Preaching, at Emory University, worries that the true essence of the Christian funeral is receding rapidly from the collective memory of the community of believers. ....

Contemporary services, Long laments, have taken on a strongly therapeutic aspect, designed to assuage the grief of those left behind. This has led to an increase in memorial services, occasions for remembering the earthly life of the deceased—in most cases without the body present. When the funeral becomes focused on the living, the deceased just get in the way. “The revised funeral story,” Long writes, “is that we are simply summarizing memories, comforting each other, involving some inspiring thoughts, doing effective ‘closure’ and managing our grief; so it is better not to have any embarrassingly dead body cluttering up our meditation.” ....

A funeral is throughout a reenactment of the gospel and a proclamation its promise. Accordingly, Long emphasizes the importance of the sermon at a funeral rather than a eulogy: “The sermon happens when the preacher, who has gone to the Bible for the people and on behalf of the people, now turns and goes back to the people and is a faithful witness, telling them courageously and truthfully what has been heard.” This is not to say that the details of a person’s life cannot be mentioned, but “the life of the deceased must be told in light of the gospel.”

Long calls on the Church to regain control of funeral practices and in Accompanying Them with Singing, Long has provided the necessary guide for doing just that. .... [more]
The Drama of the Christian Funeral | First Things