I just buried a friend who died of brain cancer. He was deeply involved in ministry at our church and he was a grace-filled man.
It’s hard to say goodbye to a friend. I’ve only led about 15 funerals in the last 10 years, but 10 of those funerals have taken place in the last two years. Our young church has been through a lot of death.
Death is difficult, and death is also clarifying. How should Christians react to the death of one of our brothers or sisters in Christ? The scriptures challenge us to grieve honestly and to celebrate hopefully.
We gather at funerals to grieve the loss of our friends, but we also gather to celebrate and remember their life. We grieve living in a world of brokenness and pain, but we celebrate a God who entered our brokenness to redeem it.
Christianity offers a unique ability to do both. We can be honest about our grief that the world is still broken, and it hurts, but we can also grieve differently because we have hope (2 Thessalonians 4:13). We believe that we live in the story of Christ’s renewal of all things. He is our sure hope that our grief is not the end of the story.
Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” This means weeping at death is appropriate. It may seem like common sense, but some Christians pretend that we should be happy all the time. Death is sad. Jesus models this well in the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35).
Romans 8:22-26 says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies ... the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We don’t know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express ...”
The theme of groaning is picked up again in 2 Corinthians 5, “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling ...”
We groan. We grieve. We mourn. We still eagerly await for the completion of our adoption — the renewal of all things.
But we also celebrate at the funeral of a believer, because we know that the believer who has passed away no longer groans.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope ...” Paul is challenging the Thessalonians (and us) to not grieve without hope. So our grieving should be honest. We should weep and be sad at death, but we should also celebrate and remember the hope we have in Jesus.
I would suggest three ways to celebrate our hope in a funeral: Remember the grace-fueled good works in the life that has just ended, sing cross-centered songs of praise and read hope-filled scripture.
First, it is important and biblical to celebrate good memories of the believer who has died. By God’s grace, believers are reflections of God’s goodness. Matthew 5 says that we are the light of the world and when we let our light shine people will see our good works and give glory to God.
A good eulogy connects these dots. We don’t pretend that the departed was perfect, but we celebrate that the same God who gives us beautiful sunsets, good food and old friends, gave us the person we miss. They served as one more window into God’s goodness.
Secondly, consider congregational singing. Often the person who has passed had favorite hymns you can sing in honor of them. Cross-centered songs of grace help us to recall and refeel that future we groan for.
Finally, read scriptures of hope. In John 11:25 Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
Another hopeful one is Revelation 21, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. ... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
The funeral of a Christ follower is a time to groan together as a community longing for redemption, and also celebrate together that Jesus is our hope beyond the grave.
Dave McMurry is pastor of Grace Bible Church in Killeen.