Four funerals in 20 days here at Legacy. Four friends of mine. Long time shepherds and deacons and Bible school teachers and song leaders. Pillars of this family of God at Legacy. Whew! It’s been an emotional month around here.
Allow me a couple of observations as I’ve reflected on the death of God’s saints. And funerals. And, like I tell my kids, I’m not trying to give you a guilt trip. I’m trying to teach you.
I believe funerals, just like everything we do as a congregation, are gospel. I think attending funerals embodies the gospel. Showing up at a funeral communicates the gospel. Being at a funeral rehearses the gospel. It imitates the gospel. Participating in funerals is a holy gospel practice. To attend a funeral is to be present for a sacred gospel moment.
First, funerals are important to us if we really do believe that we are “one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Regardless of the size of our church, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are family. And we all go to family funerals. Saying “but I didn’t know that person” doesn’t cut it. You didn’t really know your great-uncle Ed, either, but you went to the funeral two years ago because of your mom. You may not have known the lady in the casket, but many people here at church did. And they’re sad. They’re grieving. And we all belong to each other. Going to funerals is a beautiful opportunity to obey the gospel commands to “mourn with those who mourn” and “bear one another’s burdens.”
Second, funerals give us another chance to declare our conviction that death does not have the final word. We grieve differently than the world grieves. We are a community of hope. We know that physical death has been defeated by Christ’s work on the cross and the Holy Spirit’s work at the garden tomb. We know we are all going to experience resurrection. So at funerals we sing praises to God. We thank him. We bask in the glory of his great promises to deliver us to the other side. We speak and preach and share together our anticipation of the new heavens and the new earth. Going to funerals is a proclamation of the gospel.
Third, attending funerals is a Christ-like, gospelesque sacrifice. It is. It takes time out of your busy schedule to go to a funeral. You have to give up part of your own day, part of your calendar, to make it to a funeral. You have to consider others better than yourself — or, at least, what they’re doing during those two hours more important than what you had planned. It’s growing in the understanding that to comfort the grieving family is more important than your own comfort. Showing love and support to the mourners is a higher priority than your shopping trip or your TV show. Hugging people and crying with people and loving on people is gospel behavior. Showing someone by your presence at a funeral that they are very important to you is extremely Christ-like. It’s very much in the way of Jesus, in Jesus’ manner, to give of yourself for the sake of others. It’s one of those transformational things. Going to funerals shapes us, molds us, changes us to be more like Christ.
As a western society, we don’t go to funerals as much as we used to. As a Christian community of faith, I think we should all make more funerals than we miss.