I recently asked for and received our church’s “Memorial and Funeral Service Arrangements Information Sheet.” It’s full of hard questions, and I’m working on it. The questions seem to require answers that are so final:
• Do you wish your remains to be buried on church grounds?
• What particular Scriptures would you like read, or do you have a Scripture with a … personal meaning?
And on and on.
Still, I think these forms can be extraordinarily helpful — both for congregation members and for the church. And I wish my church were more assertive about getting these forms into members’ hands. They can provide a wonderful opportunity for ministry, for sharing the gospel, for getting people to acknowledge their own mortality and their need for a Savior.
And they can help prevent more dull funerals. Dull funerals make me sad. They’re so unnecessary.
A few years ago I went to a funeral of a former newspaper colleague who loved the circus. When the service ended, calliope music filled the air and firecrackers — yes, firecrackers — were popped off all around the sanctuary. No one thought that was a dull funeral.
It’s not news that we live in a death-denying culture. But it seems to be news to some people in our churches that one of their tasks is to stand against the culture when it promotes destructive values.
So our churches should be spending much more time helping people understand their own deaths. It’s the only way they’ll ever understand their own lives. And one way is to get them to fill out one of these funeral forms.
In fact, I’m thinking of suggesting a funeral form party in my congregation. We’d all gather for dinner and then a leader would walk us through the process of filling out our forms.
“What special music do you have in mind?” the moderator would ask.
And from the back of the fellowship hall someone would shout, “‘For All the Saints’ followed by ‘Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen’ followed by ‘Get Off the Stove, Grandma, You’re Too Old to Ride the Range.”
Then someone might talk about how she’s ordering an 18-gauge steel coffin from Costco for as little as $1,299.99, including shipping to the undertaking establishment, while someone else might counter that he’d prefer not to have a casket at all but to have his ashes — his cremains, if you please — spread along the fairway of a golf course, where he seldom managed to be in life.
And people would laugh and begin to remember that God in Christ has defeated death and that even in the midst of our somberness we can tell old Mr. Death that his number is up and that we aren’t afraid any more.
Death is the one gate through which all of us must pass. Thus it gives the church a chance to explain itself, to hold people’s hands as they look into the abyss, to tell them they aren’t alone, and that death has lost its sting.
Instead we often find churches catering to the culture’s fear of aging and death by spending more time and money on offering aerobics and yoga classes than they spend on teaching people what we mean when we talk about the resurrection of the body.
The death of my family members and friends breaks my heart. I grieve. I suffer. But it doesn’t break my spirit and doesn’t deaden my soul.
That’s partly because I know that my Redeemer lives and partly because when I look on http://www.whosaliveandwhosdead.com I find no record of my own demise.
Bill Tammeus is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog at http://billtammeus.typepad.com. E-mail him at [email protected].