Sunday, August 17, 2014

I want you to cry at my funeral. . .

Chad Bird has written well of six things he does NOT want said at his funeral.  I can only echo his comments here.  Don't say I was a good man. Last time I checked good works (neither the abundance nor their poverty) was what commended us before God.  Even if I was all that good, how does it comfort those who survive me to have lost "such a good man?"  Don't call out my name (more than a few times and where liturgically it is directed).  Call out the name of Jesus who forgives sinners, clothes the evil with His own righteousness, raises the dead to life, and prepares the place for the dead to go to be with Him forever.  Don't dehumanize me by saying I am now a happy (though chubby) little angel flapping my new wings around heaven.  Sentiments like this kills the honest hope of Christ's death and resurrection.  Don't celebrate my life or console the folks left by telling stories about me.  Lutherans have funerals.  If my life meant anything, it deserves a funeral.  Tell the story of Jesus because by my baptism this became my own story.  Don't say that what lies in the coffin is but a shell of what I was.  God did not merely make my soul; He also made my body -- fearfully and wonderfully -- and I look forward to the resurrection of the flesh and the new and glorious body Christ already wears and, by His promise, I will, too!

If I could add one thing to what Chad has written, I would only say don't read some banal, trivial, secular poem, piece of literature, or sentimental song and call it Gospel.  Most of the stuff read at funerals is crap.  It only increases the pain or diminishes the loss (falsely) and hardly any of it directs us to the real Gospel.  No, resist the effort to recite some pithy saying that is rich in sentiment but devoid of the faith and the hope into which I was baptized.  Even if you are not a Christian, I was so do not dishonor what God did in my baptism by equating some trivial saying with words of Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.

That said, it is the last thing that Chad said I want to focus on.... Don't say I would not want you to weep.  I DO want you to cry at my funeral.  Grieving as the informed who know the hope we have in Christ does not erase our tears of loss or the pain of death.  Our hope sustains us in our grief.  Our hope is our strength in weakness.  Our hope enables us to endure the crushing loss of those whom we love.  But it does not erase it as if there were no pain left in death, no sorrow, no sadness.  Did Jesus grieve Lazarus' death or did He just put on a show of tears for the benefit of the people?  As we shed our tears we affirm Him who wipes away every tear from our eyes.  When Paul cautions us against grieving as the ignorant who have no hope, I think he has in mind the very idea that we are not here to be sad and shed our tears, but to celebrate the life of the deceased and to comfort ourselves with memories and the laughter of his many foibles.  This IS the ignorance that both fails to acknowledge the reality of death as the consequence of sin as well as a denial of the wondrous miracle of Christ who ended death's reign and transformed the grave into the gate of everlasting life.  I hope you will cry for me and in your tears will be comforted by the mercy of God which endures forever and by the death of Christ that sanctifies our own death and the grave of Christ that sanctifies the graves of all who die in Him.

I have shed many tears at funerals.  Some funerals of beloved parishioners have been every bit as painful as those of my family members.  I can recall standing at the grave and barely being able to utter the final words of the commendation:  Christ is risen!  I heard the people respond through their tears with the same wavering voice.  He is risen indeed!  This is exactly what it means to grieve.  We shed our tears, we admit our broken hearts, but through the tears we also cry out to God both in confession of what we believe and as the invocation of His promise:  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Those Christians who would try to paper over our sadness, dry up all our tears, and comfort us with our memories have failed to acknowledge exactly what it is that the terrible choice in Eden stole from us and what it is that the amazing grace of the cross and empty tomb of our Savior has restored.  There is no glory in death except the glory of Him who died that we might live.  Nope, don't celebrate me or my life or my accomplishments or my memorable moments (as foolish as they were).  Do me the honor of some tears and, if my life has meant anything to you, speak faith through those tears in confessing Jesus Christ through the liturgy, the creed, and the prayers.  Grieve.... but grieve with hope...  Rejoice in Christ... but not by denying what it is that afflicted us sinners or what it is that Christ bore for us.  You can do both.  That is the paradox, the creative tension, in which we Christians meet death and confess Christ at the same time.

6 comments:

Unknown said...

What happens to us when we grieve for a loved one who has died is laden with so much emotion that even Christians loose sight of what is right and proper. I remember when I first heard the song, “Take Me”, from Les Misérables, when Jean Valjean asks God to take him instead of the gravely wounded Marius. Was Jean Valjean willing to take the punishment of going to heaven in place of his daughter’s friend? I had not so learned Christ.
Both among the Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Lutherans it is a popular belief that our Lord grieved for his friend, Lazarus, when Scripture records that He wept. There are two verbs which describe our Lord’s emotions in the verse just preceding the one that says He wept. I have looked at every occurrence of these verbs, ἐμβριμάομαι and ταράσσω, in the NT (something that is easy to do today, using Strong’s Concordance online), and I find not a single instance in which these words mean or imply “grieving”. If anything, ἐμβριμάομαι implies anger or indignation.
Our Lord did not give any signs of grieving for several days, knowing that His friend was dead. Why should He suddenly succumb to grief a few minutes before resurrecting Lazarus? We should remember that this entire sequence of events is not about Lazarus, his sisters, the Jews or the mourners. Our Lord tells us what it is all about two days before He decided to walk to Bethany, by which time Lazarus was already dead for two days. John 11:4, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Then, just before raising Lazarus, He said, John 11:41, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that You sent me.” Grieving is not part of the equation here.
Our Lord wept because He knew He would bring suffering to His friend; He was going to bring him back from the place of eternal bliss into, quite literally, the vale of tears. The Gospel turns our reality and our fundamental beliefs upside down. This becomes clear when, on the evening of His own death, our Lord told His Apostles, John 14:28. “… if you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father …” But the fact is that we are incapable of loving “the Lord our God with all your heart and with all our soul and with all our might,” and therefore we grieve.
The time of death is a somber time. I cannot see myself urging people to celebrate the occasion, even though I know that the Orthodox requiem is more of a celebration than a ceremony of grieving. In Russian one “sings off” the dearly departed. But grief is a sign of our sinful nature, because, if we believe what our Christian faith teaches, the saint who has departed is vastly better off than he was here on earth. We should rejoice, but we grieve because of our loss; we grieve for ourselves. Our Lord forgives us our grief, even when we claim that it is worthy.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart


Janis Williams said...

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13,Paul is speaking to Christians worried about saints already asleep. He expects them (and therefore ourselves) to grieve, but not as those without hope. Whether Jesus grieved or raged at Lazarus' funeral is not an indicative, but a narrative account. Paul is speaking to Christians in his letter, and is asking/telling them not to grieve as non-Christians do, but with the assurance and confidence of Christ's promise to ressurect us.

John Flanagan said...

I worked as a national cemetery representative for two years 2006-2008 in NY. It was a job I acquired after retiring from a civil service job I had done for 34 years. I worked for the national cemetery overseeing interments, leading funeral processions to grave sites and moving families through the ceremonial military colors and religious prayers. I probably was present at about 2000 burials, and heard the short eulogies of ordinary people grieving in their own tearful farewells for their loved ones. I heard the often scripted prayers of clergy assuring the family members that their loved one was now in Heaven. As a born again Christian, I often felt that some of the tears shed could well be in grief for the ones who did not know The Lord, cared not for grace, for Christ, for the redemption He bought with His blood, nor...to be honest....probably did not desire to be with Him in eternal life. We do not know who is saved and who is finally lost, yet we often give others the benefit of the doubt, conscious of our own unworthiness. As for me, I do not wish tears of grief upon my death, but tears of joy only, and let my epitaph be simply "He was a sinner saved by grace, and he is at home with The Lord."

Unknown said...

I am not sure that “so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope,” means that St. Paul “expects” us to grieve. The sentence permits an interpretation to the effect that “we should not grieve at all, as do those who have no hope.”
A peculiar thing happens in Philippians. In 1:21, St. Paul writes, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain,” and in 1:23, “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better…” But in 2:25, he seems to change his mind when it comes to Epaphroditus, “25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” Suddenly not taking Epaphroditus to heaven is “God having mercy on him.” And St. Paul would have had “sorrow upon sorrow” had Epaphroditus died. How do you explain that? Is one St. Paul the Theologian and the other St. Paul the human being? I don’t know.
The long and the short of it is that when we Christians grieve at the death of another Christian, we grieve for our loss, for ourselves. As such it is a selfish action, one which our Lord would not succumb to. But just because we cannot help doing it makes it no less a sin. The Good News is that our Lord even forgives those sins which we do not think are sins.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Unknown said...

John Flanagan: indeed flesh and blood have not revealed this to you but our Heavenly Father, through our dear Lord Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit!
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Anonymous said...

We are dealing with this very problem at this very moment, right across the street from my home. My neighbor died this past Friday, and he was a long time Anglican. His surviving wife is a Baptist, and she cannot comprehend the idea of an Anglican funeral according to the Book of Common Prayer.

Not only the wife, but all the surviving family, through about 4 generations, are Baptists. They were entirely bent out of shape yesterday when my neighbor's priest told them that they would not be permitted to sing some sappy little song about rainbows and butterflies at the funeral. They are saying, "well, that would never be a problem at a Baptist funeral," and they are probably correct. It has causes a lot of unhappiness and bitterness with the family, and it is sad to watch.

This is a well written piece, and I will save it for future reference.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest