How can a discussion about death be this much fun? This question is one that I asked myself after yesterday’s adult Sunday school class, the next-to-last session in the Lenten series Living with Death.
The focus of yesterday’s session was funeral planning. In our tradition, a funeral is called A Service of Witness to the Resurrection, which, when one thinks about it, is an Easter celebration writ large.
I started the session by asking participants: 1) How many of you have a will? 2) How many of you have a living will? 3) How many of you have decided between burial and cremation (and have made these wishes known)? Finally, I asked: How many of you have planned your funeral?
Which of these four tasks do you think is most neglected?
Discussion of funeral planning is appropriate, especially during Lent, and this discussion needs not be a heavy one. Because we accept death’s inevitability and believe in resurrection, by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we are able to laugh in the face of death.
Services of Witness to the Resurrection make a big, bold theological point by celebrating God’s sovereignty in the church and the world. They also serve pastoral and liturgical functions by calling God’s people to worship and by providing them with space to grieve.
The big, bold theological point is that in Christ’s resurrection is the promise of ours. The first pastoral function of A Service of Witness to the Resurrection happens when the minister shows up on the family’s doorstep to plan a funeral. While they family may assume that the pastor is there to plan a funeral, he or she is really there to sit with them in their grief. There is healing in remembering the dearly departed person’s favorite Scripture readings and hymns and in sharing the group’s favorite stories about him or her (an experience that is almost always punctuated by laughter and tears).
The pastoral functions of A Service of Witness to Resurrection multiply after the service is planned, and the congregation gathers to listen for God’s call to worship.
Liturgically, I love the fact that a Prayer of Thanksgiving is prayed in the middle of Services of Witness to the Resurrection, because inasmuch as a funeral is a worship service, I also believe that this service should take on the personality of the person for whose life we are grateful.
At the end of yesterday’s session, I invited participants to think about readings and songs for their service. I shared with them collections of Calls to Worship (Psalm 103:13 and Isaiah 66:13; 1 Peter 1:3-4; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4), Old Testament readings (Ecclesiastes 3:1-15; Psalm 23; Psalm 46:1-5, 10-11) and New Testament readings (John 14:1-6, 25-27; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 21:1-4, 22-25; 22:3-5) that are often selected for Services of Witness to the Resurrection in hopes of inspiring them to engage the contents of Scripture and to plan not only for their deaths but also for their resurrections.
As we speculated on how our pastors’ conversations with our families would go and on which stories our family and friends will remembered, we laughed, and as we considered death from the perspective of resurrection, we laughed again, because, as people of faith, in the face of death, we ultimately have nothing to fear.