A funeral director I know used to joke with his staff when families said they had decided not to have a funeral. "They can pay for a funeral now or for therapy later." Invariably those patrons would return, often at the advice of a counselor, asking for a funeral.
Modern funerals are viewed as dispensable. When they are performed, families typically prefer to celebrate a life rather than mourn it. And so, complains Emory University professor and preacher Thomas G. Long, into the funeral come movie clips, "open-mike speeches by friends and relatives, multimedia presentations of the life of the deceased, NASCAR logos on caskets," and other elements full of sentimentality and emotion but little direction and meaning.
But while many churches are uncomfortable with these trends, they are not sure why they oppose them. In Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral (Westminster John Knox), Long hopes to set churches, and particularly pastors, straight by re-introducing the Christian funeral.
Long argues that a Christian funeral is a dramatic retelling of the gospel. Struck by death, the Christian community worships God by weaving the life of the deceased into the story of God's gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ's defeat of death on the cross. While modern funerals focus on mourners to assuage their grief, the Christian funeral "works the other way, drawing private grief and personal loss so fully into the gospel that mourning becomes not only consoled but transformed."
"As fellow pilgrims on the path," Long writes, we accompany our brother or sister in Christ to the place where they await the final resurrection. This corporate journey is done through the funeral. It has traditionally involved three steps: caring for ...1