What’s the point of a funeral?
A funeral marks the close of a human life on earth. It is the opportunity for friends and family to express their grief, to give thanks for the life which has now completed its journey in this world and to commend the person into God’s keeping.
The funeral service will reflect the personality of the one who has died and the circumstances of their death. Feelings of grief, gratitude, joy and sadness often intermingle.
Sometimes, a sense of tragedy is uppermost, especially when it is a young person who has died. When it is the end of a long and fruitful life, the feelings of thanksgiving can be strongest.
There are times when the death of a faithful Christian seems to be the consummation of all they have lived for and the funeral service is a triumphal departure for their true home. As for Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, ‘all the trumpets sound for them on the other side’.
How can we make a funeral memorable?
The funeral service of the Church of England can be very short and quiet with only a few members of the family present or an occasion of great solemnity with music, hymns and a packed church. It can very appropriately be set into the context of a Communion Service.
At St Johns we will endeavour to to make the service as meaningful as we can for the family concerned. Whether using the plain funeral service from the Prayer Book or the Alternative Service Book, we will blend the format chosen with a sensitive choice of hymns, favourite prayers and readings to make the occasion a special memory. Of course the address is a key part of the service and, whether or not you or a relative or friend is involved, whether we have known the deceased or not, we will take the greatest of care to achieve the right tone, and leave a lasting impression in the minds of those attending.
Whatever the pattern of service, our desire in our words and actions is to tell of our loving God and the preciousness to Him of every human being.
How can we cope with the reality of what has happened?
Funeral services always raise profound questions about the meaning of life and death. Jesus himself believed in a lifegiving God: ‘the God of the living, not of the dead.’ Christians believe that Christ’s resurrection is the triumph of good over evil and of life over death and has made eternal life available to us. And Christian theology has long pondered God’s love in the context of the four mysteries of heaven, hell, death and judgement.
In the numbing days after a loved one has been taken from you, you may wish to question what has happened and why. Deacon Jill and lay members of St Johns can help with a sympathetic ear, time without an agenda and our prayers for your well-being in times of trouble. If you would like to talk to someone from St Johns about coping with grief, speak directly to Deacon Jill.
What happens at the funeral service?
The service will generally consist of:
- A number of reassuring sentences from the scriptures read out loud.
- A psalm or readings telling of God’s care and the hope of eternal life.
- An address or sermon remembering the life and work of the dead person and the great Christian beliefs about life beyond death.
- If the family wish it, inclusion of the Communion service
- Prayers recalling the promise of the resurrection, entrusting the dead person to the love and mercy of God and asking for comfort and strength for the mourners left behind.
What is the Committal?
The committal is a particularly solemn moment of the funeral service. It takes place either at the graveside or, in the case of a cremation, in the crematorium chapel or in church before the hearse leaves for the crematorium.
In the cemetery or churchyard, the family will gather round the open grave into which the coffin is lowered. In a crematorium, the words of committal may be accompanied by the closing of a curtain to hide the coffin from view or the coffin is moved slowly out of sight.
The committal can be a very emotional moment. Many who are suffering grief find that, even in their sadness, the words of prayer can lift them towards the experience of Christian rejoicing in the knowledge of life beyond death. The offering of prayer and the trust that the person is in God’s safe hands can begin the process of healing the grief of loss.
How do we arrange a funeral?
The funeral director plays a very important part in all these arrangements and will want to know if the funeral is to be in the parish church or if the vicar is to take the service in the crematorium. As a general co-ordinator, the funeral director should be your first port of call and will take the burden of worry off your shoulders.
If you would like a priest from St John’s to take the service, please contact one of the Church Wardens or Deacon Jill at the same time as contacting the funeral director – firstly to ensure the priest is availability, but also to allow the maximum time to visit you and your family, offer comfort where possible and to plan the service. For example, the deceased may have left a paragraph in their Will describing the sort of funeral arrangements they hoped for, and the earlier these are known, the more likely we will be able to fit in with them.
If you have had a death in the family, please get in touch soon. We at St Johns will do our level best to get you through the funeral and support you afterwards. .
Credits: Adapted from the Church of England’s standard leaflet on Funerals