This week, I spent an afternoon at a continuing education event at the State Funeral Directors Association. I am not a funeral director (but it was cool to see the new model hearses on display), but one of the general managers at Thompson Funeral Home invited me to an event for clergy. It was a time with Thomas Long and Thomas Lynch, the authors of a new book entitled The Good Funeral.
It was a great time of discussion as the two Toms talked about funerals, dying, and how things have changed in the funeral profession and funeral ministry.
It is fair to say that often a funeral is a balancing act. A funeral is not just an anonymous and ancient liturgy; it is a holy moment of recognition for one who has journeyed through life. It is a time to speak of things Eternal even as we claim a life that spanned only a few decades. What language do we offer that is authentic, pastoral, and honors the deceased while claiming the Eternal in a way that reflects the integrity of the one who presides?
The liturgy is there to remind us that we are not alone, that countless others have journeyed here before us. These are words that ring true that reflect our hopes, doubts, and fears. These words, along with the scripture readings remind us of the Presence of God with us in death and in life---we do not travel this way alone. As I walk down the center aisle of a crowded but silent church followed by a casket and a grieving family, I recite the words offered by pastors in that place before me and in a million other places and times: "Dying Christ destroyed our death..." That page is well worn in my Book of Worship.
For all of the faithful, ancient elements of the funeral, we also seek the personal. Who died? How did they live and love and find meaning? How will they be remembered? A good funeral weaves the Eternal and Personal into a tapestry of hope, love, and remembrance. It connects the limited one to the Imminent and Transcendent Holy. The person is not lost in that moment beneath the weight of God nor is the deceased magnified over God. We need personal funerals, not personalized "celebrations of life" that forego deeper meaning than whether the deceased never missed a Carolina football game. When we personalize we make the funeral a social event rather than a meaningful moment that equips us to live lives of purpose.
I commend to you The Good Funeral by Long and Lynch.