>if it was my funeral…

Posted: 22/06/2010 in church, eschatology, evangelism, resurrection

Here goes, it is time to get morbid.

There have been a few funerals around my world recently. I won’t mention whose, as anyone reading this can probably guess if they know me. At these funerals, there are some peculiar practices that -if it where mine- I would probably not like. No, I think of something else entirely.

Sometimes, there is a bit sermonizing at funerals. It is usually about the need to accept Jesus so you can get into heaven when you die. Apparently, this is sometimes accompanied by a full on altar call. So after everyone remembers the deceased, there is a need for the minister to make sure everyone is going to get to heaven too. It seems to make sense. If the Gospel is about going to heaven when you die, then what better time than a funeral to make sure everyone gets to heaven when you do?

Now, don’t think that this practice is wrong. Yet, if it were my funeral, I think I would resurrect from the dead right then and give the minister an earful. I am not a fan of altar calls in general. Now altar calls at a funeral seem just plain thoughtless. It is as if evangelical ministers do not know how to do much except evangelize, and they only way they know how is via altar calls. It seems a tacky -and perhaps even manipulative- practice.

Christians believe in things other than making everyone Christian, right? We believe things beyond “go and preach the Gospel”, right? We have entire traditions of devotions, practices, and above all hope, yes? Wouldn’t some of those be more appropriate for a funeral? This leads me to my next thought…

At many funerals there is a lot of talk about heaven. The soul of the deceased is in eternity with God. The deceased may even still be with us in spirit and watching down. I am reminded of the old Family Circus cartoons in which a ghostly apparition of the deceased grandfather happily watches his grand children from the clouds. This hallmark image of heaven is what is so often invoked at a Christian funeral.

In contrast to altar calls, please do think that this is wrong. This is not what the Bible teaches. It is not what Christian hope is. This is not what Christians are supposed to believe about life-after-death. As one blogger put it, this belief is a second rate consolation prize compared to what God really has for us.

Paul speaks of the redemption of the the body (Romans 8:23) and elsewhere he talks of the raising for the dead (1 Corinthians 15). This is not some metaphor for salvation. This means that our bodies, which are now cursed by sin and will die, will be physically raised up and returned to perfection with the rest of God’s good creation some day. It is for this reason that early Christians dug catacombs for their dead, rather than burning them. Their bodies were simply to sacred to be burnt on a Roman funeral pyre.

I think of it this way: my last earthly memories of my late grandfather were when he was tired, sick, old and unable to remember our names. He was so weak that he could not swallow applesauce. But when the dead are raised, his body will not suffer anymore and stroke that so damaged his mind will be of no consequence. I do not think of my grandfather as floating on the clouds watching my life right now, but I look forward to telling him all about it when the dead are raised on the last day.

At my funeral, this is what I want people to talk about it. We can forget about an altar call. We can forget about souls floating to heaven. Whenever I die, and am buried in the dirt, I want whoever speaks to emphasize the future bodily resurrection. That is what I look forward to with the entire Christian world.

I guess that wasn’t so morbid after all, huh?


  1. Dan says:

    >I love what you wrote here, man. I freely confess that I essentially preached the Gospel at my sister's funeral several years ago. I didn't do anything close to an alter call, but I did tell them about my sister being in heaven. Anyway, I like what you wrote. I don't know if I'll preach anymore funerals, but I like what you're wanting for yours and I think it might just be a good model for all of us.

  2. Eric Gregory says:

    >The only thing I'd alter is the assumption that you cannot now tell your grandfather about your life. We, as the apostles and most of Christendom, believe in the resurrection of the dead on the last day, yet we also believe that, upon death, those who pass on are not without consciousness. This is why the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgies indicate praying for and asking for prayer from those who no longer walk the earth as we do.We are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses", and their intercession is just as valid as the intercession of those of us in mortal coil.

  3. Jin-roh says:

    >Dan, that is the third "to young to die" story I heard about this week. That's sad.Eric, you are certainly right about the cloud of witnesses. I do not practice praying to saints, but I do not reject it in principle.

  4. Dan says:

    >You know what thought? That's the one thing I did right in that sermon. There is no such thing as "too young" to die. We can be confident in the knowledge that God controls all events and cares for us more than the sparrows (the verse I used in the sermon). She did not die too soon…she arrived in heaven at the exact moment she was supposed to.I actually disagree with Eric, as the verse he speaks of says nothing of them interceding on our behalf, but that is another issue I suppose.

  5. Adam Goyer says:

    >Thanks J,I was at my uncles funeral yesterday, thankfully the 2 pastors overseeing it were very old, very liberal and very wise. As such, I think it was a funeral that you would of appreciated. I certainly did.

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