Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Thoughts upon attending a funeral

So, I attended a funeral today at a "Community" Church nearby. I knew the preacher (who also works part-time at a local funeral home - he does a fine job there). I find I don't like going to non-lutheran funerals in general - they tend to make me angry. False Doctrine does that.

Today, though, I ended up being more reflective. It wasn't horrible (it wasn't a solid Lutheran service), but it could have been worse. But even with an okay service, here is what I noticed.

1. "A Celebration of Life" is Law. A lot of times churches now hesitate to call funerals funerals. They think this is too depressing, and instead, we "celebrate the life of the deceased." The thing is. . . they are dead. Yes, the deceased was wonderful. . . and right now, I don't have that wonderful anymore. Yes, those times were good. . . but they gone now and so are those times. To simply celebrate the life is to highlight a gift that is gone. There's nothing wrong with celebrating the life - in fact, it is good to reflect and give thanks to God for the blessings we have received - but that reflection never will give comfort - it will always be a bittersweet celebration, and the bitter taste is the one that will linger.

2. Losing the Liturgy means losing prayer. So the preacher told us before hand that the service wasn't going to be "liturgical" -- oh, there would be an order, but it would just sort of flow. And we entered, and there was a song, and then there was an ex-corde prayer (including the preacher wanting help to get through the service), and then a reading of the obituary that was interspliced with personal comment and reflections (and I guess life-celebrations), and then we looked at pictures while the Carpenters (the band) sang. Then there was - I guess it was a sermon (at least the hope of heavenly reunion although not a lot of focus on Christ) - then another prayer - then a hymn, then "Still the One" by Shania Twain. . . and that was it.

The big thing I noticed is that there was. . . so little prayer. Everything in the Liturgy is prayer - we are constantly calling upon God in prayer whenever we speak in Church. And that was. . . just not there. It just made me appreciate the impact of a liturgical life on my ability to pray.

3. A guiding of emotion or a proclamation of the Word? Whenever I have a service, my thought is to proclaim the Word of God - any service. At a funeral, it is proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ for the sake of the deceased, to proclaim that they now live in the presence of God. It is bold, it is decisive. I don't worry about things that I don't know (I may mention them in passing) - I declare the Word of God. It is declarative, it is authoritative.

What I heard today seemed more to be a guiding of emotional responses through the grieving process (or at least to get it started). The emotion of the preacher was much more clearly presented - and he put himself in the position of being with us, not just in an empathetic way, but in a participatory way. And the movement of the service was in moving us to good feeling, good memories.

On all these things, I am glad I am a liturgical Lutheran.


William Weedon said...

Nothing tops a Lutheran funeral liturgy. We have something to pray, something to sing, and something to say. I think it's the ultimate measure of the worth of one's theology. What use is it in the face of death?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Everyone moves towards Lutheranism at the time of death. . . and this is possibly because Lutheran preaching is all about how Christ has won you the victory over sin. . . over DEATH. . . and over the Devil.

A funeral service isn't all that much different for us. We die to sin every service and receive life from Christ every service.

Robyn B. @Leave the Lights On said...

A "celebration of the life" of the deceased is for the wake, not the funeral. Silly people.

And I would wager that a Catholic funeral liturgy at least equals a Lutheran one.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


You are spot on with both counts - the celebration of life is the wake -- it's not the primary religious activity - it's social, it's laugh and cry time.

And as for the service - the biggest difference is that as Lutherans don't hold to purgatory, you don't have prayer for dead included, and there is more of a concrete "our baptized brother/sister in Christ now is in the presence of Jesus this moment". But in terms of how the service works - quite, quite similar.

Rev. Josh Sullivan said...

I'll add my belated, though hardy, "Amen" to this post. nothing sounds quite like nails on a chalk board like celebrating life when the room smells of death. Theological quakery, I say.

These folks look to the church for answers about death. It's sad when we give them a mixed bag of answers.

By the way, does anyone know if a funeral is done differently (i.e. position of the casket) for a pastor's funeral?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

What I have heard concerning the casket of a Pastor is that if you have the casket oriented perpendicular to the altar, the feet face the altar for a layman, but the head faces the altar for a pastor (as the pastor, if he were to rise suddenly, would be facing the people, as was his call in life). Our chancel isn't big enough for that, so we have our caskets parallel to the altar.