Thursday, February 28, 2002

A Christian Funeral

(These observations are intended to assist in the creation of a mindset where we approach dying and Christian funerals in a way that is according to the Gospel and not according to the secularist tendencies of our time.)

Because the age in which we live is very much geared to what we may call the "horizontal" seeking to master space and time and everything therein, and has few thoughts about the relation of the cosmos to its Creator & Judge, or of souls to their Judge, the temptations for those arranging and taking funerals are powerful but somewhat hidden.

We recall that the Christian Funeral is in essence a proclamation of the Christian Hope of the resurrection of the dead unto eternal life with the Lord Jesus, together with the reverent committal of the body of the deceased, baptized believer to the grave in sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead. Comfort is conveyed to mourners by the message of Christian Hope, by the promise of the presence of the Spirit of the Lord who is the Comforter, and by effectual prayer.

The whole content of the Anglican Service in church and at the graveside (see the B.C.P. 1662 or 1928) is Christ-centred and thus primarily "vertical." The word of the Father concerning His Son and salvation in him is proclaimed and prayer is offered to the same Father through the Son in the Holy Ghost. As a result there is a movement from the vertical into the horizontal and from the horizontal into the vertical and thereby comfort is brought to the mourners from the Father through the Son and by the Holy Ghost.

In today's culture, when we attempt to keep people alive as long as possible and without pain to the end, the felt need to die in grace a right death (pardoned from sin and in a right relation to God) is minimized. Clergy visiting the dying are asked not to upset them for a good death is a painless death! And when it comes to the funeral, the tendency is to seek to make it a commemoration of the life, work and successes of the deceased and so it has more the character of a remembrance service than of a truly Christian funeral. Mourners are expected to be happy that he/she lived a successful life and "died peacefully"; they are not to be concerned whether he or she died in a state of grace and whether or not he/she has gone to be with the Lord. That they have gone to heaven is often assumed in a kind of sentimental way.

Of course, the modern use of funeral homes with all their commercial interests and psycho-therapeutical techniques, and the secular feeling (whatever the Bible and Creed declare) present amongst the mourners that this world is really the true and the primary world, do very much militate against the funeral as a proclamation of the Christian hope of the resurrection of the dead and life in Christ and the receiving of the comfort of the Gospel.

So the temptations unto mourners, arising particularly from the world in which we live [as aided and abetted by the devil and our own spiritual weaknesses], are powerful , and all to often we are not even aware of them and that we are submitting to them But they should be expected and resisted; further, we should seek to make sure wherever possible that believers have the opportunity to die in a right relation to the Lord and that their funerals are proclamation of the Christian hope and not of their (imperfect) successes. ==========================================

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon Lent 2002

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