recently attended a funeral. It’s always interesting (indeed, for me it’s very helpful) when a minister sits with the congregation, to worship and then to reflect on the experience. The service was held in a Christian church, and a variation of the following prayer was used mid-way through proceedings. It formed the centerpiece of the address we were offered by the Minister:
“God of grace and glory, we thank you for ____, who was so near and dear to us, and who has now been taken from us. We pray that nothing good in his/her life will be lost, but will be of benefit to the world; that all that was important to them will be respected by those who follow; and that everything in which ____ was great will continue to mean much to us now that he/she is dead. We ask you that ____ may go on living in his/her children, family and friends; in their hearts and minds; in their courage and their conscience. Amen.”
I have sometimes used this prayer myself in taking a funeral. I find it helpful. And hopeful.
But if it stands alone, as it did at this funeral, it is shockingly incomplete.
Here is a plea that the best of someone’s life-now-over will be respected, revered and remembered. It is a good prayer. But by itself, it is not a Christian prayer because at its heart it is about the death of life.
At the very heart of the Christian faith is not the death of life, but the death of death — the astonishing fact of what St. Peter calls “a living hope” to which God the Father calls us: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Indeed, Peter goes even further when he says that “according to His great mercy, God has caused us to be born again” to this hope through the resurrection of Jesus. (1Peter 1.3)
The sermon and prayer I heard proclaimed a vague mystery, that somehow, sometime, some benefit could remain in the world as a result of this life well-lived. The Gospel message is utterly different, and much, much more robust. Someone lived, and died, and was buried. You and I who live now will one day die, and be buried. Jesus Christ lived, died, was buried too.
Yet, today He is alive, risen and reigning with God in Heaven. With Jesus’ resurrection, death died. The fact is, His tomb was empty. He was seen by hundreds of people over many days. Some of them were prepared to die rather than deny that in Christ death had been defeated, and Life — eternal, real, physical life — had triumphed.
The summer season, so full joy and adventure and life is nearly here in Oceanside. C.S. Lewis, who wrote the “Narnia” tales and so much else, described life as a Christian as a schoolchild’s experience of the last day of classes: the bell rings; the term is over; the long, long holiday has just begun.
It is a Living Hope to which you and I are invited to trust, to live, and to enjoy.
— Guy Bellerby is the Rector of Christ’s Church (Oceanside) in Nanoose Bay.