Chad Bird's post on ChurchPOP makes for fun reading about that which we all fear: funerals. Like other life celebrations--weddings, graduations--these events have become so scripted and filled with bland assurances that the events--as rituals--have been drained of meaning. No wonder Donald Trump is doing so well in general election polls: all the institutions that once underwrote American cultural meaning(s) have been shown to be unloyal, unworthy of trust, and quite corrupt in themselves. So why not bet all the money on something new that promises a fix? (That, btw, is a great story in itself; read that here.)
not my image--from the internet
So do funerals matter? Absolutely--and not, as the old saying goes, for the living only. The dead, Bird reminds us, still care. Bird:
They say the dead don’t care, but I’m not dead yet, so as long as I’m still alive, I’d like to have some say in what goes on at my funeral. And, truth be told, I think the dead do care. Not that they will be privy to the details of what happens at their own funerals, but they still care about the world, about their family, about the church. The saints in heaven continue to pray for those who are still on their earthly pilgrimage, so how could they not care about them?
Bird draws us back to our roots--the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because I do care now, and will care even after I’m with the Lord, here are some things I hope and pray are not said at my funeral. I care about those who will be there, about what they will hear. I want the truth to be spoken, the truth about sin, the truth about death, and, above all, the truth about the love of God in Jesus Christ.
So here are six things Bird does not want said at his funeral:
1. He was a good man.
Don’t turn my funeral into a celebration of my moral resume. For one thing, I don’t have one. I’m guilty of far more immoral acts than moral ones.
I don’t want to be the focus of my own funeral. I was not the center of the liturgy on Sunday mornings, so why should it be any different during my funeral liturgy?
3. God now has another angel.
Heaven is not going to de-humanize me. In fact, once I am resurrected on the last day, I will be more human than ever before, for my human soul and human body will finally be in a glorified state that’s free of sin.
4. We are not here to mourn Chad’s death, but to celebrate his life.
Whatever the apparent reason for my decease may be—a sickness, accident, or old age—the real reason is because I was conceived and born in sin, and I built atop that sinful nature a mountain’s worth of actual sins.
5. Chad would not want us to weep.
When Lazarus died, Jesus wept.
6. What’s in that coffin is just the shell of Chad.
What’s in that coffin is the body that was fearfully and wonderfully made when our Father wove me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14). What’s in that coffin is the body that Jesus baptized into His own body to make me part of Him. What’s in that coffin is the body that ate the saving body of Jesus, and drank His forgiving blood in the Supper, that I might consume the medicine of immortality. And what’s in that coffin is the body that, when the last trumpet shall sound, will burst from my grave as a body glorified and ready to be reunited with my soul. My body is God’s creation, an essential part of my identity as a human being. It is not a shell. It is God’s gift to me. And one day I’ll get it back, alive, restored, perfected to be like the resurrected body of Jesus.
Read it all here.
Bird does us all a favor with this post. Funerals are, he himself recognizes, are not easy--but then this life, ending as it does in death, is not easy. Furthermore, Christ Himself willingly lived in this uneasiness so that, in dying, He transformed it. Thus, Bird argues, we rightly should focus our funeral energies on the resurrected Lord and thus rightly locate our departed loved ones. Recently a good friend and mentor died who himself had eulogized an older friend and mentor to us both. The Lord's Prayer petitions "lead us not into temptation," meaning here perhaps the temptation to make the recognition of death solely about the dead individual instead of Jesus who conquered death. Thus Bird's #6 speaks to that temptation--that a wonderfully unique and willed life has ended, never to be lived again--and its correction in the Resurrection. In this realization, mourning is perfectly acceptable--even, as Bird suggests, almost necessary--but never permanent and final. In Christianity, joy is always the end.
So the gloomy nihilism of songs like Bauhaus' Bela Lugosi's Dead might make good music (a very debatable point, I think) mostly miss the point. Our humanity, though dead, will only reach its true telos upon the Resurrection, because only then we will be truly free of sin.
Until then we do wait--in this life and in death.