Thursday, January 4, 2018

That's not who I am. . .

I am sure that every Lutheran pastor has been in the same boat.  A faithful Lutheran has died and his children, none of whom are still Lutheran, have come to help you "plan" the funeral celebration of life.  Of course you have all sorts of war stories to hear from them of the many Lutheran funerals they attended and came away empty inside.  There were no heart-felt tributes to the deceased, no open mike of story time to tell tales on the dead, and no playlist of country, classic rock, gospel songs, contemporary Christian music, etc. to entertain them with their "heart music."  Instead there was Scripture, the sturdy hymns of old, liturgy, and prayers -- all of whom, apparently, inhibit the grieving of those who enjoy a two cocktail with remembrances and anecdotes in between as the primary means of forgetting death and remembering the dead.

But Pastor, that's not who I am/we are.  Well, of course it isn't but the funeral is not about you.  And it was who your father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc. was.  The funeral is, in part, testament to the faith confessed by those who die in the Lord.  So maybe you get nothing from Scripture, the sturdy hymns of old, liturgy, and prayers, but this is the stuff of which you father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc. participated all during his/her life and even when communed at home/nursing home in these last few years.

But Pastor, we want something more personal, meaningful to us.  Well, of course you do but the funeral is not about what is personal or meaningful but about the God who saw your father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc. dead in trespasses and sin and loved your father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc. enough to send His one and only Son to suffer, die, and rise so that your father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc. is not dead but lives to the Lord and so that the faithful may await the day when our Lord shall return in His glory for the grand reunion with your father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc...

But Pastor, we want something more upbeat.  Well, of course you do but the funeral is not like instructions to a DJ about the tempo of the background music.  It is about the only thing "upbeat" in death -- the promise of the resurrection of the dead to life everlasting.  You may not like to confront death -- no one does -- but Christ has confronted it for us and by His dying He has killed it and by His rising again He has opened to us and all believers the door to everlasting life.  If we can't talk about this, we have nothing at all to say in the face of death.

But Pastor, he/she loved __________ and sang it all the time so we want to have it sung at the funeral celebration of life.  Well, of course you do and I can tell you right now how much I love to sing Bohemian Rhapsody and Nights in White Satin but when we gather at the death of those whom we love who die in the Lord, we had better sing something more than a song in our memory but a hymn that confesses the tomorrow God has created for those who die in Him today.  The music of the funeral drives us to the cross and empty tomb for therein is the eternal song sung by those who lived in Christ and still live in Him.

But Pastor, we want the casket to be open and the photo tribute to play on the screens while the funeral celebration of life is going on.  Well, of course you do but we close the casket and we turn off the video because our attention has to turn from the life, from our memories, from the stories, from the sorrows, and from the death to the life and the Lord of life to whom we commend those who die in the faith.  Our hope does not lie in trying to hold on to the memories of yesterday but in the promise of tomorrow, of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting in Christ.  Outside of this, our gathering for the dead is a terribly melancholy moment and if our grief is so shallow that we can be consoled in death by telling a few funny stories about the dead, well, that speaks volumes, doesn't it.

But Pastor, we don't want to talk much about baptism, we don't want to use the creed, and we don't want people with their heads in a book at the funeral celebration of life for our father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc.  Well, of course you don't but in the face of death there is only one consolation and hope and it comes in the form of a book, the Book of Life, the Word of God, the Scriptures, and in the worship book (Lutheran Service Book) in which we sing and speak that Word in worship and especially in the face of death.  And we will talk about baptism because your father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc. was received into the arms of his/her Lord in that baptism (Romans 6) and at that font that creed was confessed by the mother and father of your father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc. and your father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc. confessed in their own lips that creed in the confirmation of your father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc. and every service over the last 50,60,70,80,90,100 years they lived.

But Pastor, you don't have to be there.  We can get our own pastor to do the funeral celebration of life.  Well, of course you can and I am sure Brother Moon Sun and Stars would love to do it for you but your father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc. was a member of _____ father/mother/aunt/uncle/etc. and his/her death is within the life of his/her church and through the funeral the church testifies to his/her life in Christ and their death in Christ and therefore their resurrection in Christ so, thank you, but no, I will do the funeral.

And if you are reading this and thinking "Hmmmmm who will plan my funeral?" -- just do it with your pastor and take away all the questions and what ifs and leave your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends, and neighbors a marvelous witness in death to the faith you confessed in life.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe celebration of life services can follow the pattern of a wedding reception wherein friends and family gather in a conference hall at a hotel after the solemn service is over and pass an open microphone around the room and drink a toast to the dearly departed.
Pastor Peters is right about advance planning. Remove any questions about your memorial service with written instructions from the hymns to be sung, to the Psalm(s) to be read, to the presiding officiant. Give your pastor that gift so he doesn't have to wrangle with your stubborn progeny while you rest in peace.

Christopher D. Hall said...

Yeah, I've had it happen twice that family didn't want the funeral done here the way we do them. So someone else did one, and we did a memorial here, on our own, with his brothers and sisters in the Lord, and invited the family to attend. They didn't.

Anonymous said...

How selfish are we if we demand our dearly departed's funeral service be held according to our expectations? Regrettably I have Mormons and atheists and Roman Catholics in my family, but I would never attend their funeral service asking/demanding that it meets the standards of orthodox, confessional Lutheranism...

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. The same could be said of some wedding request.

John J. Flanagan said...

I personally feel we should allow family members and friends to express themselves at a funeral memorial, and grieve for the loss of a loved one without getting into a theological discussion. Of course, the preacher and believing Christians must use this time to stress the importance of the grace of God, the love of Christ, and the Gospel of salvation. This can be done in a modest and brief time slot, as most funeral services and graveside committal services are conducted between 20 minutes and less than one hour in length. I spent two years as a cemetery representative for a national cemetery on Long Island after retirement and before moving out of state. I probably officiated at 25 to 40 committal services per week, and believe me, I heard all kinds of words spoken in praise of the deceased, most of whom were elderly veterans and their spouses. The services for active duty military killed in Iraq or Afghanistan were much more somber and extremely heart rending for family and friends than the deaths of the very elderly. At the services for elderly veterans and/or their spouses, we found that most pastors and even funeral directors always said public prayers and quoted John 3:16....all done simply, quickly, and respectfully. And although some people may focus on the worldly achievements and personality of the deceased, the message of faith still came through for those who have "ears to listen" and a heart of belief in the one true God whom we worship.

Lutheran Lurker said...

I don't think Pastor Peters is saying that there is no place for a eulogy but rather that the eulogy is not the funeral and the family's place is not to take over what belongs to the church and to the Christian faith in the funeral.

I also agree that what we are missing is the old idea of a wake (did't Pastor Peters write about that a while back?). That is the place to tell the stories, sing the favorite songs, and tip a glass in memory of the deceased.

Anonymous said...

Opening the service to any Tom, ***, or Harry to speak a eulogy is unionism and syncretism for all practical and theological purposes. All kinds of false doctrine is typically spouted.

And can you imagine any family speaking to a military honor guard and telling them how to conduct their rituals? I don't think so.

Nix the eulogies, slide shows, etc. and let the good Lutheran pastor officiate a Lutheran liturgy that glorifies Christ and His Gospel.

People need to show some respect for our Lutheran doctrine and practice. Our pastors need to have guidelines given in advance to thwart this kind of stuff.

John J. Flanagan said...

Anonymous, why be so legalistic and rigid?

Unknown said...

John,

You mean "Things should be my way or else you're being rigid and legalistic?"

Anonymous said...

Oh, I don't know... John, would you be ok with a pair of Harley's up by the altar just because the couple like to ride?

John J. Flanagan said...

To: Anonymous and Unknown: If we were sitting at a table in Starbucks, the three of us, discussing this topic, you would have heard me say, "Why be so legalistic and rigid?".....in a low tone of voice, and in a casual conversational manner, certainly not meant in a contentious or " I am a know it all," way of speech. Believe me, the comment was more of an inquiry into your point of reference, than an accusation. I suppose you could say truthfully we are all legalistic in some areas, more rigid in others, and less rigid or legalistic in still other issues in the church. I am rigid about areas of Lutheran doctrines and foundational core principles of our Christian faith as spoken in the Confessions and Creeds, but probably less so in areas in which Christian liberty allows wider views and are less dogmatic. It is a danger to be too legalistic to the point in which we become self righteous. No doubt there exists areas where Christians can agree or disagree without fighting a battle over who is more Biblical or who is not.....God forgive us for the shed blood between Christians over the centuries, religious wars and persecutions in which the church did more harm within itself than any outside heathen invaders. Following the Reformation, the 30 years war between German Catholics and Protestants killed off nearly a third of the entire German population. So again,, I am not saying I am the final authority on what is rigid and legalistic, just noting that in some areas, we can and should be less so, and choose our battles wisely.