Funerals

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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Christopher Peppler

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3 thoughts on “Funerals”

  1. I have often pondered on the idea of funerals and memorial services and have come to the firm conclusion that, in the main these events take a form that suggests the congregation to be the main object, facilitated by the demise of a close loved one or acquaintance. I have often made myself unpopular when I have declined the invitation to attend a memorial service – invited by one of my close family member, not teh deceased, you understand. My main reason, possibly selfish, is that the family probably need the support in days and months to come – include me there – and I am not in need of going to a memorial service. Even those glorious services, where we can celebrate the transition to eternal life in Heaven, I hear the relief in people’s expressions of how much more pleasant it is to attend such a service. I agree. But would I be alone in admitting that the pleasantness was relief to me, mainly?

  2. @Keith As a pastor I have conducted many funeral and memorial services. My observation is that the service constitutes an important part of the grieving and healing process. The eulogies are for the family and close friends to hear, and the hugs and tender words are for them to receive. These services also provide an occassion to present Jesus when people are open to spiritual truth. The only times that some folk think about eternal things are when a baby is born, marraige, sickness, and death.

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.