Funerals and Memorials

It has become the fashion when someone dies, not to speak of a funeral, but a memorial service, a celebration of the deceased person’s life. One is a liturgy of the church. The other is a deracinated version for the unchurched.

One of the most respected parishioners of my home parish died. She wrote insisting on that word. She did not “pass away.” She had not gone anywhere, but died. Hers was to be a funeral without euphemisms.

Memorial services are about remembering how wonderful the dead person is—in other words, death-denying. Funerals deal with death forthrightly. If they are celebrative, it’s because a faith decision was made in the face of death.

During a memorial, someone usually says the person who died lives in out memories. But we die too; then what? It is important to unhinge the hearers from such fantasy and nudge them toward the knowledge that God has us in hand, alive or dead.

One can have only one funeral, but lots of memorial services, called by anyone for whatever purpose. I could call for and have a memorial service for Jefferson and Adams on July 4 on my porch, and that would be just fine.

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We are in sympathy with our friend Carol who says she’d rather be stuck in the ground with no service, than have a service in a funeral home. Who lives in such a home? Not even the funeral director, and certainly not God. He has no need of a commercial establishment; he has his own house down the street. He will know where to come pick up the pieces even if there isn’t a churchyard in the vicinity.

God keep us all here yet awhile.

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