Friday, April 1, 2011

"In sure and certain hope"

Mollie Hemingway, reacting to a Wall Street Journal article, "Putting the fun in funerals," about the increasing use of humor in funeral services, expresses something that has increasingly bothered me - at least with respect to the funerals of Christians. Funerals are, of course, for the bereaved and about the one who has died, but for Christians the service, like every service, should primarily be about the gospel. Funerals [like weddings] are becoming disproportionately about us and what we think we need rather than placing our needs in the context of worship. Hemingway:
.... This whole practice is very foreign to my religious upbringing. Confessional Lutherans believe that a funeral is a worship service not terribly unlike any other worship service. And that means that we don’t worship the person being buried but, rather, Jesus. This is how all Lutheran worship goes and it goes triple for a funeral because it’s a great time to remind the deceased’s parish, family and friends of what Jesus did for them.

But because Lutheran funerals are somewhat different from what I’ve experienced elsewhere, I can confidently state I’ve seen attempts at humor at other religious and secular send-offs for 30 years. I mean, I still shudder with absolute horror at the United Church of Christ pastor’s attempts at humor at my grandmother’s funeral. ....
Quoting from the Wall Street Journal story:
.... Some clergy say eulogies laced with humor can come at the expense of the religious significance of funeral services which traditionally weren’t focused on individual loss but community piety. For example, the Kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer is an ode to God that never mentions someone has died. The funeral liturgy in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer didn’t include a mention of the deceased’s name until modern editions.

Today’s funerals are shielding mourners from facing the sorrow of death, says theologian Thomas Long. “A good funeral is now marked by the level of laughter” ....
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer service for "Burial of the Dead" is mostly a collection of appropriate quotations from Scripture alternating with prayers. The service isn't long [choices are made among the suggested Scriptures] but it seems to me that it strikes the correct balance. I chose from that service for my mother's funeral. These words are found near the end:
REMEMBER Thy servant: O Lord, according to the favour which Thou bearest unto Thy people, and grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of Thee, he may may go from strength to strength, in the life of perfect service, in Thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

At the grave

UNTO Almighty God we commend the soul of our brother departed, and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in Him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto himself.

Then shall be said or sung,

I HEARD a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, From henceforth blessed are the dead who die in the Lord: even so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labours.
Putting the fun in funerals » GetReligion, The Book of Common Prayer, New York, 1928.