Last week I attended a memorial service and a funeral service. The essential difference between the two is that a funeral service precedes the burial or cremation of the deceased whereas a memorial service is usually held later. The objectives however are the same – to pay tribute to the person who has died, to comfort the relatives, and to honour God. All three of these are important. 

We pay tribute by speaking fondly of the deceased and by presenting eulogies, short speeches that praise and value the person who has died. These are, of course, for the benefit of the family and friends present. Sometimes people speak of the deceased person as listening and smiling down upon the proceedings but this is not a biblical idea. Paul wrote of departing this world and being with Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:21-24). In Heaven there are no tears (Revelation 21:4) and it is hard to imagine how a person could look upon the pain of those he or she loved without a sense of anguish. 

A few months ago I received a letter from a dear friend who had just attended the funeral of one of his best friends. After the service he started to think about why it is that we only affirm our friends and family once they can no longer hear our words or read our tributes. So he wrote to someone who had meant a lot to him and affirmed him while he was still alive. I think that was a really cool thing to do.

The second objective of a funeral service is to comfort the family. This is often hard for the family to receive but it is an important start to the healing process. When someone dies suddenly the family sometimes experience a sense of denial. The head knows that the person is gone and will never return in this lifetime but the heart does not understand this. The service and especially the love and heart-felt condolences of their friends help them come to terms with their loss. 

The third objective is to give glory to God. He is the giver of life and the one to whom all of life points. I don’t believe that He plans the death of His children, let alone actively arranges their departure from this world. Of course He knows what will happen before it does and He is present in both the lives and the deaths of all who believe in Him. When we are confronted by death we need to be reminded that only in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, true God, is there any real meaning to our sojourn on earth. When we die we leave behind a legacy of some sort, but it is only in a relationship with God that we have an eternal inheritance.

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