We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. (1 Jn. 1:4-5)
Each time I perform a funeral, I sit down with the family and ask them to tell me about their recently deceased loved one. I want to know as much as I can about them, so I can make the service as personal as possible. This isn’t what my seminary education taught me, but something I learned from my grandmother. She grieved her mother-in-law’s funeral because the minister, who knew the deceased well, barely mentioned her, and didn’t mention my grandfather, her son, because he died before her and he only mentioned those still living.
Seminaries often teach us to put the emphasis on God in funeral sermons and not to “worship” the deceased. I do not agree with their teaching on this issue. I believe you recognize the life of one’s loved one and through celebrating his/her life, you find the ways God worked through the individual. In my opinion, this is a better way to glorify God - through specific examples - rather than sharing some eternal life sermon without context. Perhaps that is one of the many reasons I am a local pastor and not a seminary professor.
Often, the hardest part of the sharing process is not getting families to talk, or getting interesting stories, or even facing the raw emotions of the moment. No, the real challenge is guiding loved ones to recall any aspect of the deceased’s faith. Often, I know more about the loved one’s faith, than any member of the family. That is sad, and something we need to address as the Christian community.
We are called to share our faith. If our family doesn’t see the “joy” that “completes” our life, then why bother with the demands of the church. If family doesn’t know how God guided the individual through the “darkness,” how will the deceased’s loved ones ever know how to face their own “dark” moments in life? Today, plan to think through your life’s story. What were the ways God worked in your life? Then, think about how you might share your life’s faith story with those you love. Otherwise, they will look at me with a blank face when I ask them about your faith. They will also be left without faith-based coping skills when dealing with loss when your life comes to an end. God wants to love them the way God loves you.