by David Bent; Team Rector
I had an interesting conversation with some clergy colleagues recently, about our communities’ understanding of funerals and the decline in the number of so-called ‘religious funerals’. It was suggested that there is a sense in the communities that people have to choose between a ‘religious funeral’ and a ‘celebration of a person’s life’. I don’t see this distinction.
Funerals should give families and friends space both to deal with their grief over the loss of a loved one and also to celebrate all that was good in their life. Christian funerals (I don’t find the term ‘religious’ very helpful) also give the opportunity to share the grief with God, who understands grief, and to share the celebration of life with God, who gave us life in the first place. But a Christian funeral does more than that because it does it all within the hope and promise of resurrection life, through faith in our Risen Lord.
But that got me thinking about the Easter story! Were Jesus’ family and friends planning a funeral service for him? Funerals were clearly part of the Jewish culture; we get a glimpse of this when Jesus interrupts a funeral procession in the village of Nain and raises the deceased, a widow’s son, back to life (Luke 7:11-15). We know that Jesus was placed in a borrowed tomb on the Friday evening because it had to be done before the Sabbath, the following day. But were they planning a funeral service for the Sunday?
If they were planning a funeral service, I wonder who would have given the eulogy, and what they would have said about the life and ministry of this exceptional man? How much would they be mourning his death and how much would they be celebrating his life? What would be their hope for the future, for them now, having to live life without Jesus, and for Jesus himself, in terms of eternity? The Jewish faith believes in the resurrection of all the faithful Jews when the Messiah comes. But now their hoped for Messiah was dead. Whatever their plans, God clearly had different ones!
The resurrection of Jesus on Easter Day surely marks the turning point in the history of funerals. From this point on Christian funerals not only
celebrate the life of a loved one and grieve their loss, they also look to the promise of eternal life in a heaven that is spent in the presence of God and of all those we love who have died in faith, and that will be beyond our
wildest dreams. So, let us join in the Easter Celebration:
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!