Dear Friends in Christ:
Although some people do not like to think about dying, it is one of the only things we can be certain of in this earthly life. As sure as we all must pay taxes, so we all will die. However, for the Christian, death need not be a scary thing. Rather, we await it as one awaits a trip that has been planned and eagerly expected for quite some time. This type of expectation is not morbid or depressing; on the contrary, it is as St. Paul said to the Romans:
"I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us... We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies, for in this hope we were saved." (Romans 8:18, 22-24)
Of course we can only say this along with St. Paul through our faith that Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead, victorious over the grave, and ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us. We can only begin to speak confidently about our departure from this earthly life into the eternal kingdom of heaven when we believe that Jesus is "our resurrection and our life" (St. John 11:25)
The faith and confidence of the early Christians in the Risen Saviour is borne out for us in the fact that the graves of their departed loved ones came to be called "cemeteries" or "sleeping places." In some parts of ancient Greece, the houses in which visitors or travellers lodged for the night were called "cemeteries", that is, "chambers for sleep", or "dormitories." In the New Testament, the dead are frequently described as "asleep" and as "those that sleep in Christ." Hence among the early Christians, the name "cemetery" was given to the place where the bodies of those that "had fallen asleep" were deposited till the morning of the Resurrection.
As you begin to put your affairs in order for that glorious day when you will enter into the Paradise of Almighty God, perhaps these notes on the Burial Office will come in handy. May they assist you in being prepared.
Sincerely yours in Christ our Risen Lord,
A. On the Location of the Service:
According to the directions listed just previous to the Burial Office on page 591 of the Book of Common Prayer, the funeral service "shall take place in the Church, unless there be special cause to the contrary." The reason for this stems from the understanding that the Church is the House of God, set apart from all profane and common uses. As the House of God, it is the place where members of God's family meet--members, who themselves, have been set apart by the grace of God to be His children and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven through Jesus Christ in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. As the children of God and inheritors of His kingdom, it logically follows that our bodies would be brought into His House for the funeral.
B. On the use of the Funeral Pall:
As the body is brought into the Church, it is met at the door and the funeral pall is placed over the coffin. This is done to remind us that at baptism we "put on Christ" (Galatians 3.27); and thus in the day of His Second Coming we will be clothed with glory by His mercy and grace, if we remain faithful unto Him. The funeral pall is also used for the practical purpose of showing that in Christ we all are equal. As St. Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek. there is neither slave nor free. there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3.28)
C. On the appropriateness of the Holy Communion at the Funeral:
There is a great deal of evidence to show that it was customary at funerals amongst early Christians for those present to celebrate the Lord's Supper. This ancient practice leaves us much to think about. First of all, it makes perfect sense for us to celebrate the Holy Communion at a funeral because of what this Service means. As St. Paul explained to the Corinthians, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes."( 1 Corinthians 11.26) What better time than at a funeral to remember that our Lord also suffered and died and rose from the dead? The Holy Communion assists us in our grieving process by laying before us the mystery, the credibility, and the hope of God's great Love for all the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Another reason for us to consider including a celebration of the Holy Communion with our funeral wishes rests in the understanding that the Holy Communion is more than a way of remembering Jesus' death and resurrection. As you know, the Holy Communion is a Sacrament. "A Sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given to us by Christ Himself, as a means whereby we receive this grace, and a pledge to assure us thereof" (BCP, page 550) In other words, God works invisibly in us as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. He strengthens and confirms our faith in Him by the presence of the Holy Spirit. What time could there possibly be when we require the strength and confirmation of the Lord more than in grieving the death of someone we love?
D. On the Participation of the People in the Service:
The Burial Office has as its primary purpose to set forth the worship of Almighty God. We know this to be so as we think on the words of Job, who, after the death of his sons and daughters, the murder of his servants, and the destruction of all his livestock, "rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground, and worshiped. saying, "...the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away: blessed he the Name of the Lord. " (Job I. 21)
Because worship is the primary purpose even of a funeral, everyone present is called to participate, even in the singing. It is a good thing for the congregation to have hymns to sing together in the praise of our Risen Lord. Why should that privilege always be reserved for solo musicians when all can benefit from the opportunity to sing unto the Lord?
E. On not having Eulogies as part of the Burial Office:
An eulogy is "a spoken or "written piece of high praise". As much as we all would like to hear the virtues of our departed loved ones extolled at their funeral, it hardly seems right for us to focus the attention on them. First of all, as we have already said, funerals have as their primary purpose the worship of Almighty God. That is where we should direct all of our praise-unto the Living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Secondly, as we said in our discussion about the pall, we are all one in Christ Jesus. In other words, no one person should be lifted up higher than another; for in spite of the world's tendency to value a person in terms of their successes in this world, God values us all equally. What we have accomplished in this life is not so important to Him as whether we have believed in His Son Jesus Christ and lived a life of charity in His service. God values us all equally because of Christ. Thirdly, eulogies do not find their proper place in the Burial Office because the time for human judgement is past. As Christians, we believe that Jesus "shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead" (Nicene Creed). The Lord Himself shall judge us, and His is the only judgement that shall matter.
All that being said, there is an opportunity for families to write something about their departed loved one for the funeral bulletin. This can be done with the help of the Rector and the Church Secretary. Also, if you would like to share some memories or reflections, it is appropriate for you to do so at the funeral reception. St. George’s would be pleased to assist with this when possible.
F. On the Choice of Cremation:
Provision is made in the Burial Office for a person's body to be cremated should that be their wish. In many places where there are limited land resources, cremation is about the only option. For the Christian, the act of burning the remains is only an acceleration of the natural process of decay and in no way changes the blessed hope of "the resurrection of the body". We believe that God will give the faithful departed "a body as He has chosen" (1 Corinthians 15.38) and that "the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs 'will hear His (the Son of man’s) voice and come forth..," (St. John 5.28). This resurrection body will be for all believers--those whose bodies have naturally turned back into dust, those who shall have been recently buried when Christ returns, and those who have been cremated.
There is one thing to be considered if you choose to have your body cremated: if at all possible, the cremation should not take place until after the funeral. First of all, as the "temple of the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 3. 16). the body should be given a proper and reverent funeral according to the Church's Burial Rites. Secondly, the body should be present at the funeral for the sake of the mourners, in order that they will be able to know that the person has really died. Without the body present there is the possibility that some will have trouble quieting their minds.
G. On the "Committal" or "Interment" of the Body:
The "committal" or "interment" of the body is that part of the Burial Office which is entitled "At The Grave". This usually follows immediately after the funeral service in the Church except in cases where the weather does not permit the burial. In this case the internment is scheduled for a later date and the body is transferred to a vault. Please note that the interment does not take place at the Church; this is the act of burying the body and occurs only at the grave.
If a body is brought into an Anglican cemetery from another Church, the Anglican priest is to meet the body at the cemetery gate, process to the grave, and inter the remains. There are at least two reasons for this including the maintenance of burial records and the ongoing Christian witness to the community.
H. Explaining Death to Children:
There are a variety of resources to assist you in speaking to your children about death. If the Rector can be of any help in connecting you to these resources, or in meeting with you and your children, please do not hesitate to ask. With this or with any other questions or concerns you may have, please call him at the Church Office 855-5209.
The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace, both now and evermore. Amen.