Lutheran funerals are truly wonderful. There is a marked difference between a Lutheran funeral rite and one of most other denominations. In the midst of life, we are in death, and so in the midst of death we do not abandon what we have heard and prayed in life, the Word, in favor of weeping and wailing or celebrating and worshiping the earthly life of the one now asleep, but instead, God comes to us through the Christ-saturated liturgy of the funeral rite.
A Lutheran liturgical funeral rite stands in stark contrast to the typical Reformed/Protestant funeral, and this difference will be noticed by those non-Lutheran family members and friends attending the funeral of a loved one. The Lutheran funeral, more than knocking on random doors and handing out cheesy fliers, little loaves of flavorless bread, or tiny bottles of water (that can be mistaken for “holy water”) is an effective evangelism tool. Not effective because more people will join a Lutheran church; they probably won’t. Not effective because the Lutheran pastor might be praised for the funeral rite or his sermon, though he may be. No, it is effective because it gives opportunity for the pastor to “speak Lutheran”, that is, to proclaim Christ. Christ and Him crucified is not what many non-Lutheran attendees of a Lutheran funeral are expecting to hear. They expect to hear about dear Grandma/Grandpa, Mom/Dad, sister/brother and how we can be sure he/she is in heaven because of his/her clear confession of a personal relationship with Jesus. Hopefully, they will not be fed this tripe by a Lutheran preacher. Let the E-Frees do that in the memorial “celebration” service later in the day with the non-Lutheran side of the family. Preaching is ideally not a eulogizing of the deceased, but a proclamation of the comfort found in Christ and a reminder that though death comes for us all, we have overcome because Christ has overcome. A listing of the accomplishments or a brief biography of the dead has its place, even during the rite, but not in the sermon. It does those left behind and the loved one now asleep no good to list his/her accomplishments and merits done while on Earth. Those righteous acts and filthy rags are not what allowed the deceased entrance into God’s kingdom, nor can anyone still here ride a family member’s coattails of good deeds into eternal life. The sermon is Christ for He is our entrance, He is our merit, He is our salvation.
A latent American Gnosticism sneaks into funerals, which Lutheran funerals would do well to avoid. Discarding the body, especially in cremation, furthers the thinking that the body that was wracked with illness and weakness is evil and the deceased is better off rid of it. This confuses the gift of our bodies from God with the sin in which we live. Our bodies are not evil; they are important enough that they will be with us for all eternity.
Even though there are inherent fellowship issues, the reintroduction of the Sacrament of the Altar at funerals is long overdue. Though it may be a little messy to explain to the self-appointed Charismatic Pentecostal High Priestess in attendance why she should not commune at her own grandfather’s funeral, that same sticky subject would have come up had she been visiting on a Sunday, which she may have done, since she does her prophesyin’ on Saturdays. The offering of the Sacrament, in addition to giving forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, may help the Lutherans in attendance to connect the dots that have been staring them in the face an entire lifetime: “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven…”