On Christian Funerals
There is only one sort of funeral I would want to be involved in – either as a spectator or an actual participant – and that is a Christian funeral. That is because for the Christian, death is not the end, but only the beginning. Death is a graduation to a far better life, and as such it can be a cause of celebration.
Sure, it will always be a bittersweet affair, since it is always tough to lose a loved one. But if the person who died is a Christian, and you are a Christian, then both will be aware of the great homecoming with Christ that takes place. The final union with God through Christ is the aim of all believers, and they will recognise that this life has just been a stepping stone to real life – for eternity.
Thus a Christian funeral can be a time of great joy and rejoicing. The blessed hope of joining Christ in the resurrection and of reuniting with other Christian loved ones is a cause of celebration. And it is an assurance based solely on God’s grace, not our own efforts or abilities.
Thus we can have a sure hope of what comes next, and not live in fear that perhaps we have not been good enough to please a holy God. Knowing that we are assured of eternal life through the finished work of Christ contrasts markedly with so many other religious systems. It is because of what Christ has done for us, not what we do for him, that we become “accepted in the beloved”.
These truths were part of what I briefly shared yesterday at my own father’s funeral. I said my dad was now in a far better place, along with my mom, so for the believer this is a time of joy. ‘‘Today is a good day” I said yesterday. And it was. Sure, sadness and tears aplenty, but great joy as well.
I also mentioned Steve Jobs, and how he too passed away at age 56, and would have a funeral soon. The crowd at his funeral will be far greater than the crowd at my dad’s. I even mentioned how many people in the audience would have in their pockets products which came from the creative genius of Jobs. (I did remind them to turn the iPhones off, or at least turn the volume down.)
I also mentioned that for all the wonderful computing products he created or was involved in creating, at the end of the day it really does not mean a hill of beans. The only thing that ultimately matters is what relationship he was in with God through Christ.
I do not know of his spiritual state, although he was evidently a Buddhist. But Buddha of course is still in the grave. Only Jesus rose again from the grave, and he promises the same for those who put their faith and trust in him. So while I do not know about Jobs’ eternal situation, I know fully about my dad’s.
That is why yesterday was a good day. He is at home with his Lord, and has that eternal rest to now enjoy. Is Jobs in that same place? I don’t know. But I know he will not have an iPad or an iPod with him now. Indeed, he won’t have anything, and will stand naked before God as we all will.
Death does help give perspective then. It reminds us that we are all equal, and it is the great leveller. Getting right with God and our eternal destiny is far more vital than all the things we can accumulate in this life. I know that all too well at the moment.
For the past few nights I have slept in my family home – alone. Mom and Dad are in glory, and my siblings live elsewhere, so I was there all by myself. Given that it was the family home for the past 35 years or so, there is a heap of memories that come flooding in.
And there is a heap of stuff as well; an entire house-full. My parents experienced the Great Depression, so they took thrift and saving seriously – real seriously. I don’t think they threw away anything. So now we have a whole lot of work to do to empty the place out and get it ready for sale.
So while there is a place for stuff and things, it stays right here when we pass on to the next life. So we need to get a bit of perspective here, and not be so clingy about our material goods. But as I said, despite all their hoarding, my parents both knew Christ and are both in a far better place now.
So as stated, their funeral was all in all a joyous occasion. It was a reminder to us all that this world is not our own, and that we all have an eternal destiny that we are preparing for. As the old saying goes, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”
One day my children will experience what I have had to experience. I hope it is for them a joyous time, all things considered. Their grief should be outweighed by the joy of knowing where I have gone. May that be true of all children.
18 Replies to “On Christian Funerals”
May the Lord give you all strength as you go about the next task of clearing out the house.
I’m so glad Bill that the natural grief of losing your father was tempered by knowing that he had merely gone before you into the presence of the Lord. My late mother-in-law came out from Sicily in the 1950s and every Sunday she would take her two daughters (one of them now my wife) for a walk. In the local park the Baptist Church would hold an outdoor gospel meeting. It was here that she found the Lord whom she followed for the rest of her life, preaching the Gospel and full of good works. The girls were taught in public school and brought up in the Baptist Church and my wife came to give her life to the Lord when she was 12 years old. Eighteen years later she met me and witnessed to this hard boiled atheist and Marxist and led me to the Lord as well. So when Mama Carmela passed from this life at a relatively young age, there was much sadness for our loss but much joy for her gain and for the legacy of truth that she had passed on to many, including me. Afterwards we would get many strange looks from people who enquired about the funeral to which we would reply, “oh, it was a great funeral, the best one we’ve been to … it was a real celebration of victory with plenty of singing and joy!” A very good starting point to explain the hope that is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May He richly bless you Bill, all the days of your life.
Col Maynard, Sydney NSW.
You turned our mourning into dancing. (Psalm 30:11)
Although we are missing loved ones, we rejoice in their new home in glory with their Lord.
Thank you Lord for the peace that Bill has in the resurrection joy of his parents.
My prayer for you, Bill, is that the Lord will continue to comfort you with the reality of the resurection, and that He will be closer than ever in your loss.
I buried my elderly and godly mother earlier this year. Just before she died, a sister asked what was the happiest moment of her 94 years. And she told of how as a young girl, she was skipping with her school friends, down a lane of trees. The term was over, the holidays had begun.
That word picture is, you will immediately recognise, at the end of C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Last Battle.’ For, for a Christian, that’s what eternity, heaven, is. The term over. The holidays begun.
May your faith be strengthened, and may you continue to be a blessing to your many readers; until, for you as your father, you will enjoy God’s rest.
Great reminders for us, Bill! Condolences on the loss of your father– and congratulations on his Graduation!
May the God of all grace continue to comfort you with the victory we have in Christ as you mourn the loss of your father.
May the Lord bless you and keep you and your family.
“In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (Titus 1:2)
My sympathy goes out to you, Bill, and to your family. I lost my own father last year, not knowing if he believed in Jesus, or just in his religion to save him. I can only pray that he accepted Jesus as his true saviour at the last minute. You are blessed knowing that your father is indeed in a “better place”. Take care, and God Bless.
1 Thess 4 v 13 – 18
A beautifully written piece Bill. You hit the nail on the head with Steve Jobs too; no matter what we do in life, how we contribute positively to society, how much money we make, or however we succeed in this world, the only thing that matters is whether we have humbled ourselves before the Almighty King and accepted Jesus as our all sufficient Saviour or not. I hope and pray that Steve Jobs repented before God and chose the road that leads to everlasting life with Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14).
Ephesians 2:8-9 sums this up perfectly:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
What peace we have as Christians knowing that our loved ones who accepted Jesus are now completely free from all hardship and pain in His eternal, loving embrace (Revelation 21:4)!
God bless you Bill as you continue to rejoice in Him as He leads you in this tough time. May you know the peace of God that transcends all understanding, and may your heart and mind be guarded in Him (Philippians 4:7).
Peace be with you and yours, Bill.
Mary Ellen Huffmaster
I’ve thought of you often over the last few days and wondered how you were going. As you know, my mother died last year and I certainly do know I have a great reunion to look forward to – of which she is just one aspect, albeit a very good one! I too, was afterwards able to sleep for many nights in the family home of 38 years before all that was inside was distributed to family and friends, and the house itself was sold. Not being able to go back now just makes me long even more for the eternal home we are all built for.
But still I miss her and it is important that we realise that even Christians can grieve profoundly for the loss of a loved one. Emotions often do not follow a rational path. An excellent sermon/talk I would love to point people to that helped me greatly came from an unexpected source, Dr James White, who normally dissects the arguments of atheists and other opponents to Christianity in expansive intellectual battles. But this download (please note – it is not free) is very different from his usual output – it is based in part on his experiences as a hospital chaplain – and it is well worth the small price ($US2.25) to hear someone so articulate and scripturally literate discuss the issue.
Also, I don’t know if you have ever done it, but I wonder if you have ever written about the shortest verse in the Bible, Jn 11:35, and the ramifications of the One who was about to raise the dead – knowing he had the power to do so, even as he had deliberately delayed going to Mary and Martha – still outwardly giving such a response to the death of Lazarus.
The writer of Hebrews tells us of how “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses” (4v15) and it is important to remember that grief – which is clearly OK – is different than despair.
Paul Wilson quoted it above, but like everything in Scripture, it bears repeating:
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thess 4:13)
God Bless you, Bill.
Many condolences to you and your family, but CONGRATULATIONS to your father – He has arrived at home! We also look forward to that day, with joyous anticipation, when we will see our Savior, Jesus, face to face!
Many thanks indeed guys.
And thanks Mark, yes I did write on the John 11 passage here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/03/01/jesus-meek-and-mild-or-conquering-king/
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Deepest condolences Bill
Sheldon Vanauken, an American friend of CS Lewis, writes that his last view of the latter was after a lunch at a Oxford pub where Lewis and Vanauken talked about their respective experiences of watching their wives die. As Vanuaken was walking away from Oxford high Street he heard Lewis calling out to him, and what did he say across the roar of traffic? “Sheldon, Christians never say goodbye”.
I have been reading for some time now, though I have not commented until now. I am praying for you and your family and thankful that the Lord is comforting you in your sorrow.
I and my family felt the same at the “home-going” of my grandparents (my dad’s parents). We may sorrow, yet truly “not as others who have no hope.” Praise the Lord!
May the God-given and inspired legacy of the Muehlenberg family live on and thrive for many, many generations!
There is no greater gift that parents can pass on to their children than a Christian faith, and I praise God that your parents were able to do this, Bill. Though I never met your parents on earth, I look forward to meeting them one day in the presence of Christ.
Many condolences for you and your family at this time, this piece reminded me of the way in which C.S. Lewis dealt with issues of death in so many of his Children’s books, openly and honestly! It is refreshing to see you capable of confronting and openly dealing with death, it is a sad reflection on today’s society that we are so focused on consuming ‘stuff’ and ‘living life to the fullest’ that we ignore or silence the inevitability of death, understanding this inevitability is the key to living a good life on this earth.