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Funerals: A Gift to Preachers

July 20, 2007

Next Tuesday I have the solemn priveledge of conducting a funeral service. So today I’m preparing the message, an experience I am finding to be both sobering and scintillating. Sobering – since it reminds me again of death’s dire reality. Scintillating - for nothing is more powerful than to preach in Death’s presence that Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life.”

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All this reminded me of something John Piper once said about the “gift” of funerals. If you can’t imagine why anyone could think of funerals this way, be sure to read on:

There are two reasons why the ministry of funerals is a gift. One reason is that it keeps my mind and heart awake to the reality and certainty of my death and my wife’s death and my sons’ death and the death of all of you.

It is easy to forget about our dying. Except for those in terrible suffering, death is not usually what we want to happen. It terminates some things we enjoy very much; it severs us from people we love. And for many it is an awful door leading they know not where. Perhaps to judgment and eternal hell, perhaps to utter nothingness. For many it is a great and terrifying unknown.

And since our minds cannot endure such constant threat, we very naturally forget. Or, more fundamentally, we really avoid the thought of death by filling our minds with other things. When the Bible says in Hebrews 2:15 that “through fear of death men are subject to slavery all their life,” it doesn’t mean, of course, that human psychological experience is one of constant fear. It means, rather, that, since death is fearful, and since we impulsively flee fear, man is enslaved to perpetual flight apart from Christ…

And therefore I count the ministry of funerals a gift because it keeps my heart and mind awake to the reality of death and protects me from the enslavements of being a fugitive.

The other reason why the monthly ministry of funerals is a gift to me is that it keeps my mind and heart awake to the promises of God that go beyond death.

If I were to never think of my death, then I would not think of the promise of resurrection and eternal life. You can’t think of the word “forever” without thinking of your death (at least the possibility of your death); and yet the benefits that God promises are terribly deflated if they don’t carry us to eternity. “If we have hoped in Christ only for this life, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Funerals are a gift because they cause me again and again to set my gaze “not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). And the more I set the eyes of my heart on the invisible gift of eternal life the more precious Jesus becomes, who alone can give it to me.

(taken from “Jesus is Precious Because He Gives Eternal Life”)

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4 comments

  1. Colin, what do you mean by your comment that nothing is more powerful than preaching in the presence of death? Is there any ‘hard’ evidence for this? Do the Scriptures teach much (anything?) about funerals?


  2. Dave,

    Certainly John 11 comes to mind. Though not strictly speaking a funeral, it is certainly a moving scene by a graveside. In many ways Jesus ‘preaches’ to Martha. He makes a claim about himself (I am the resurrection and the life), makes a promise to Martha (he who lives and believes in me will live, even though he dies) and even gives some direct application (do you believe this?).

    I also think that 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thesalonians 4 – though not funeral messages per se – are ‘preaching’ into the situation of death, and how people were coping (or not!) with its reality.

    Though we aren’t given the form that a funeral has to take, I think the NT definitely lays out the key content – and against the sobering ‘backdrop’ of death this can be particularly poignant.


  3. Hi Colin, thanks for your response. I guess I’m just concerned that many of my friends in Christian ministry find that little obvious or evident fruit (i.e. people coming to a living Christian faith) comes out of their funeral work.


  4. Beautiful post. Insightful. Rich. I must admit, when I read the title, I had a much more fleshly idea of what it meant. Years ago, I had a pastor that had so much joy about preaching funerals, he actually looked forward to them. Quoting him, ” I’ll have a captive audience.” In one way, he was correct. There would be many in attendance that never enter the church. Most of the time, the funeral became an evangelistic platform. While it is admirable to offer salvation, it was a dis-service to the family on many occasions. I much prefer your reasonings.



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