evangelical funerals

Readers of this blog know that I rarely reference my books in these posts–not because it would be wrong but because I don’t like the feeling that I’m trying to sell you something. I perhaps too naively believe that good writing will find readers, and am content to leave it at that. Someone mentioned last week that I should consider posting excerpts from my books, and I may do that on occasion in the future.

With that throat clearing out of the way, Matt Westerholm sent me this link to an insightful piece written by Andrew Sullivan on attending his friend’s evangelical megachurch funeral. It’s interesting to hear an outsider’s perspective, and Matt suggested it had intriguing connections to my most recent book, The Last Enemy, which will soon be out in French and a large print edition (see how subtly I promote my wares?).

I found two items of interest in Sullivan’s piece:

1. He incorrectly thinks that we will get our new bodies in heaven, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he picked that up at the funeral. Our favorite funeral songs certainly leave that impression–“touching a hand, and finding it God’s!; breathing new air, and finding it celestial!” But think about it, if we already have our new bodies in the intermediate state in heaven, then what’s the resurrection for?

2. Sullivan noted that the funeral intentionally chose to be a celebration, where the widow wore white and the audience joyfully clapped along with Disneyesque praise choruses. I don’t want to judge how anyone grieves, as if there is a wrong way to do it, but if there is a wrong, or at least incomplete way to do it, then this is it. In fact, the joyful exultations would have meant more if the people had also permitted themselves to mourn and lament. The deeper we allow ourselves to feel the agony of death the greater we’ll appreciate the victory of Christ’s resurrection. A Christian funeral should have equal parts lament and hope, and in that order.

To quote from an interesting and helpful book on this subject, “We grieve, but not as those without hope. We hope, but not as those who do not grieve.”

Update:  Eric Strattan sent me this link which is the exact right way to grieve. I am so proud of this wife, who obviously was taught well. Fair warning:  you won’t finish this piece without crying. She wrote this last month, and her husband died on Monday. God have mercy.

4 Comments

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  1. How can it be that, years later, the name Eric Strattan still fills my head with images of a helmet-wearing seminarian jumping an old car into the pond? #goodtimes

  2. Wrong Eric. You’re thinking of Eric Strehl, who is now in Israel, trying to calm the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Eric Strattan is pastor of Bridge Bible Church in Muskegon. He’s selling his Buick Rendezvous, so maybe that’s why you got it confused.

  3. HA! Yeah, you’re right. I don’t believe I know Eric Strattan…

  4. Rev. Bryant J. Williams III April 12, 2013 — 12:07 am

    Dear Mike,

    It always amazes me how many times Christians misunderstand I Thessalonian 4:13ff, I Corinthians 15, Ecclesiastes 7:2, John 14:1ff, etc.; but then again, maybe not. I counsel those persons going through the death of a loved one especially a believing one that Paul is describing a different type of grief than non-believers. He says, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who have fallen asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” The key is to recognize “to be ignorant…to grieve” with the concluding clause “who have no hope.” The latter clause qualifies “to be ignorant…to grieve.”

    We Christians should not short-circuit the grieving process. It is a necessary function for a healthy respect for death (Eccl. 7:2). It is allows for the entire person to deal with the pain, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically. To short-circuit the process is to invite disaster. The effects on one’s own being as well as others is well-documented and known by all.

    The grief that Christians have is that we have a hope in the Resurrection (vss. 14-18; I Corinthians 15). It is a hope that is certain NOT a maybe. Thus, go ahead and grieve, but rejoice also in the knowledge that there will be a day that “Death is swallowed up in Victory.”

    A funeral is both the grieving and rejoicing in the Resurrection. Unfortunately, for the lost that resurrection will be to eternal damnation, but to the believer it is eternal life. It provides comfort for the believer, but condemnation to the unbeliever.

    Finally, your comment on the physical body and the intermediate state is quite true. Christ is the “first-fruit from the dead,” the “firstborn from the dead.” The promise of the Resurrection in a physical body is at the Rapture and Second Coming. The issue of Creation and Evolution rears its head even here and the dualism of “matter is evil and spirit is good” creates a false dichotomy. Christ’s body after His Resurrection was a physical body (Luke 24; John 21) yet it was a spiritual body. Docetism does not like this at all.

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