Friday, June 27, 2008

We Put the Fun in Funerals

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…”


rlschultz said...

Supposedly, there was once this conversation between a veteran Lutheran pastor and his younger associate when the veteran first met the newbie. Considering also the prior post about weddings, the veteran pastor is reported to have said to his new counterpart:
" I'll make a deal with you, you give me all of your funerals and I'll give you all of my weddings".

Anonymous said...

If you must know, we in the WELS no longer use the term funeral. It is called a victory celebration.

elephantschild said...

My daughter is 6. Praise be to God that the first opportunity we had to take her to a funeral was a Lutheran one, and one of a dear man whose Pastor proclaimed Christ crucified for sinners. No one left that funeral without hearing in no uncertain terms exactly why Ed was in heaven, and exactly why Ed would've been the first person to tell you he WAS NOT a "good person!"

Lutheran Lucciola said...

What is the mention of little loaves of bread and little bottles of water about? I haven't been to a real Lutheran funeral yet.

Angry Lutherans said...


Some "Lutheran" congregations will use the little loaves of bread and bottles of water in canvassing, leaving them at the homes of prospects.


Anonymous said...

I think Lutherans funerals or victory celebrations are great opportunities to share simple but powerful law and gospel. They continue to be opportunities to strengthen and comfort believers and reach out to the unbelievers present.

AL, your comment about bread and water for evangelism is puzzling. How does that call one's "Lutheranism" (as you have indicated) into question?

Just shout'in

Angry Lutherans said...

Mr/s. Just Shout'in,

As a lurker from time to time over at Bailing Water, the John of whom we thank for the mention of Angry Lutherans, I wonder if you are that Just Shout'in. If so, be warned: You will not be allowed to comment in the same way here as you have over there. If any one of us finds you obnoxious, your future comments will be deleted.

(BTW, if anyone's wondering, we have published all comments to date with the exception of two received by someone who requested that they not be publicly published.)

The WELS here does not call them victory celebrations. (Mr/s. Shout'in, I think the comment you referred to may have been a joke. Of course, you are not known for your careful reading skills, if you are the same person from Bailing Water.)

It's too nice a weekend to argue with the likes of you. The quotation marks which so offended you were there because the congregations with this practice are most often those that are aping the nearest E-Free church in their worship practices, "Bible" classes, and theology. If you believe what the Sacraments give, you will be less likely to make them into a cutesy bribe to get new people into your fellowship. Also, as mentioned, this practice leads to some confusion when the water is mistaken for "holy water" and those offering it for "kooks".

Now, everyone, step away from your computers. Go outside. It's a lovely holiday weekend.


Anonymous said...

I don't get the cremation reference. I don't know anyone who chooses cremation because their body is "evil" and "revolting." I plan on being cremated because it's a waste of money to put a dead body in a box in the ground--completely unneccessary.

As for my body--I will get a new one when Christ returns--no matter if I am cremated or not.

Angry Lutherans said...

New one? Not exactly. Job said that he (and we) will see God in our flesh. What is sown in weakness will be raised in power. We will have these bodies again.