I hope people cry at my funeral. Now, before you go thinking I’m completely self absorbed, let me explain that. It’s not what you think at all.
Yesterday I cried in church. Actually, I usually get choked up at some point in any church service. Whether it’s the words of a Scripture reading, a hymn stanza, or even part of the sermon, at some point it hits me how incredible the story of salvation is, how unworthy I am, and how amazing God’s love is for me. Yesterday we celebrated All Saints’ Day in church, and it was even more of a tear-jerker than usual. It was sort of a mix between Easter and a funeral service, which is really exactly what a Christian funeral ought to be. Yes, we mourn the loss of our loved ones on this earth, but we know that because of Jesus’ resurrection, we will see those loved ones again in heaven someday. Death is not final. It does not have the last word. And that’s what I want people to know at my own funeral someday. So here are a few things to consider when planning a funeral:
Bible Readings: The Bible is full of references to heaven and eternal life, so don’t panic and choose Psalm 23 by default. Sure, that’s a wonderful and comforting psalm, and my own Confirmation verse is Psalm 23:1, but it’s done so often at funerals that a lot of people tend to gloss over it without really thinking. Consider a reading like the one yesterday from Revelation 7:9-17. Can you even imagine that multitude in white robes, standing around the throne of Jesus, singing praises to Him in a loud voice? It gives me chills to think of it. We have no idea what’s in store for us in heaven. Imagine singing with every saint that ever lived! And not just the saints, but even the angels will fall down on their faces and worship God. That’s the God we serve, dear ones. The God whom even the angels adore. We will be in heaven with all the other saints who came before and who will come after us. God will shelter us with His presence so we will never again feel any pain or discomfort. What an amazing promise is ours as Christians. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.
Hymns: As a church musician, I have a different perspective on this aspect than perhaps most people. I’ve played for a number of funerals over the years, and I see the same hymns resurface at 75% of the funerals for which I play. Again, the hymnal is full of beautiful comforting hymns that speak of the resurrection, so don’t panic and choose “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Rock of Ages,” and “Amazing Grace” just because they’re familiar. Pull out a hymnal and look through the Easter section or The Church Triumphant section. I cannot make it through “For All the Saints” without crying. This is somewhat of a drawback, since I sing along with hymns as I accompany them on the organ, and I’ve found it’s difficult to play when one has tears blurring one’s vision. Still, the words are incredible when you think about them. “From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: Alleluia! Alleluia!” (I can’t even type the words without getting tears in my eyes.) Just like the comforting words of Revelation above, this reminds us of the glory that awaits God’s saints from every nation, tribe, people, and language. So don’t be afraid to pick hymns above and beyond the old, familiar ones—Sing With All the Saints in Glory, By All Your Saints in Warfare, Behold a Host, Arrayed in White, Awake, My Heart, with Gladness, Alleluia! Jesus is Risen, He’s Risen, He’s Risen, This Joyful Eastertide, If Christ Had not Been Raised from Death… I could go on and on. And all those are without even cracking open the “Hope and Comfort” section in the hymnal. There’s so much rich theology in the Easter and Church Triumphant sections that bring comfort to those who grieve. Do your mourners a favor and give them that rich comfort.
Sermon: I’d be perfectly happy if the pastor for my funeral doesn’t even mention me in the sermon. Everyone knows why they’re there, after all. They have the memories of the deceased in their minds. They don’t really need to hear a sermon extolling all those fond memories. I don’t want my funeral sermon to be about me. I want people to hear about my Savior and what He did for me, a poor, miserable sinner. I want them to know that I was completely unworthy of the gift of salvation, but that God in His mercy and grace made me His child nonetheless. I want them to hear that He did the same for them. I want them to know that Jesus came to earth to live the perfect life I could never live, to suffer and die for my sins, and to defeat death three days later by rising from the dead. I want them to know that just as death could not hold Jesus, neither can it hold me, and neither will it hold them. Jesus’ death and resurrection is ours. His saints will be with Him eternally in heaven. People are seeking comfort at funerals. They actually listen to the sermon, hanging on every word, desperately looking for something that will give them comfort. People don’t need to hear about my life at my funeral. They need to hear about my Savior, the only true source of comfort.
So yes, I do want people to cry at my funeral, but not for me. I want them to get choked up at the incredible love the Father has for His children, that He went to such lengths to win us back. Death is not the end. I’ve quoted it before, and I’ll quote it again, because the words of verse 2 of “If Christ Had not Been Raised from Death” are a perfect summary of our emotions when a fellow Christian dies:If Christ still lay within the tomb then death would be the end, And we should face our final doom with neither guide nor friend, But now the Savior is raised up, So when a Christian dies We mourn, yet look to God in hope—In Christ, the saints arise!