Monday, February 22, 2016

Raising a fist to death

A few days ago, on Facebook, I quoted from this letter Justice Scalia wrote to a pastor after attending the funeral of retired Justice Lewis Powell. Today Timothy George reflects on funerals and funeral sermons in "Justice Scalia on Funeral Sermons":
Can be enlarged
.... In days gone by, funerals did not focus on “celebrating” life at the expense of ignoring death. Funerals acknowledged the mystery and liminality of death by fostering serious reflection on both the meaning of life and its finitude. “Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes,” the minister would say at the interment while tossing a clod of dirt into the opened grave. This act was done “in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection” (Book of Common Prayer).

Today, even in many churches that retain an orthodox confession of faith, funeral services are often minimalist affairs with a spare (if any) liturgy, no sermon of substance, and sentimentalized music, all suffused with anecdotal stories about the deceased and other half-hearted efforts intended to camouflage the fact that death remains, as St. Paul called it, “the last enemy” to be destroyed (I Cor. 15:25-26). This stands in stark contrast to the tradition of a Christian funeral as worship of the living God who, in Jesus Christ, triumphs over sin, death, and the grave—Christus Victor! Tom Long again:
Though the liturgy may be gently worded, there is no hiding the fact that, in a funeral, Christians raise a fist at death; recount the story of the Christ who suffered death, battled death, and triumphed over it; offer laments and thanksgivings to the God who raised Jesus from the grave; sing hymns of defiance; and honor the body and life of the saint who has died.
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George goes on to describe the funeral service Scalia wrote of approvingly and includes the entirety of Scalia's letter to the pastor.