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Why a Funeral Is Not the Time to Rejoice

We can let this season of Lent be Lent, so that Easter can be Easter.

A funeral is, most certainly, a time for reflecting on and being reminded of the Christian hope; the Book of Common Prayer calls for a prayer that asks God to confirm in each heart the ancient truths of our faith:

"help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting."

Yet even if we have unshakeable hope in the Resurrection, death shakes us, especially when death occurs suddenly, violently, or to a young person. But even when someone very old or very sick and death ends their great pain, death is no friend. Paul calls it an enemy.

English priest and poet John Donne wrote a famous sonnet to Death ("Death, be not proud") which puts death in the context of resurrection—"one short sleep past, we wake eternally/And Death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die." While I love this poem, I wonder if its message was one needed more in its own time than in ours. Donne's wife, Anne, bore 12 children in 16 years of marriage before dying in childbirth; two of their children were stillborn, and three died before age 10. They did not need to be reminded of death's horror. Indeed, what they needed to hold fast to was the promise that in the scheme of eternity, death was merely a "short sleep."

We have absorbed this message a bit too well. I have been to a number of Christian funerals that were blithely referred to as "celebrations," as "homegoings," as "graduations," ...

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