Full Text for Pastoral Theology and Practice- Volume 57 - Advice for Conducting Funerals (Video)

"PASTORAL THEOLOGY & PRACTICE" PROF. HAROLD SENKBEIL & DR. RICHARD WARNECK CAPTIONING PROVIDED BY: CAPTION FIRST, INC. P.O. BOX 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 1-800-825-7234 * * * * * This is being provided in a rough-draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * * * >> JOSH: What should I keep in mind when conducting a funeral and burial? Any advice would be welcome. How can we be of comfort to friends and family of the deceased? How can we proclaim the Gospel? >> PROF. HAROLD SENKBEIL: Well, Josh, you have really answered part of your question right there in that very last part of it: How can we proclaim the Gospel? At the time of death, that's exactly what everyone needs to hear. Funerals are conducted not for the sake of the dead but for the sake of the living. And what provides consolation and relief of their grief and pain and sorrow is indeed that great good news that God was in Christ reconciling the whole world unto himself, not counting their sins against them. So that article of justification by grace through faith is indeed the heart and center and very soul of the life of the church. And from that center comes all of our pastoral care also in terms of funerals. There are certain practical aspects of conducting a funeral and a burial. It would probably be good to review, given the fact, of course, that local circumstances will dictate some variations on what I'm about to say. In some communities, it's customary that a local mortuary or funeral home would be the location of a funeral. And while we want to be sensitive to the expectations of people, I think clearly it's important that we teach people that they would expect to use the church, if at all possible, for the funeral service. Why? Well, it's in that place, that sacred place, set apart in the name of our holy trinity that that person, in most cases, was brought to faith in the waters of Holy Baptism, that place where he or she heard the Gospel preached routinely and regularly, that place where he or she received the sacrament at the altar. It's only fitting that in that place, their bodies should be taken from that place and placed in the earth. And so I would encourage church funerals if at all possible. If you cannot, if you're going to be in a funeral home, then attempt, with the cooperation of the funeral director who are always very eager to please, make that as churchly as possible. Perhaps bring some furnishings of the church into it, the cross or Crucifix from the�altar could be placed in a prominent place. If you have a processional cross, even so, so much the better. That that would be a visual symbol and reminder to the entire flock and to the community of what your congregation is about, where your consolation is found. I would always be careful to wear my vestments when conducting all dimensions of a funeral service in order not to show off but to demonstrate to one and all that it is a ministry of God himself through his church that's being provided in this place. That the authority is not mine. The consolation I'm bringing does not originate in me. But it's rather the words which God gave me to speak in his written word the Bible. These are the words which I bring to provide consolation and comfort to those who sorrow and mourn. Now, the surroundings may dictate some variations, but I think there are general parameters. If there is a viewing beforehand, before the funeral starts, whether that be in the funeral home or in the church, it is appropriate, of course, for the casket to be open. It's, I think, part of a natural tendency that part of the grieving process is taking leave of this dead body to be able to view it one last time is important to people. But when the funeral service starts, the casket should be closed so the attention of the assembled congregation is not on the dead person who is departed but rather upon the living Lord who has promised the resurrection of the body. The casket may be covered with a funeral pall, that is this large white cloth that symbolizes the purity, the innocence and the righteousness of Christ which is placed upon a person when they are baptized into him and in whose righteousness they go to stand before the Heavenly throne in glory. It's appropriate, then, that before the funeral service starts, as our Lutheran worship agenda and the subsequent agenda no doubt will include, that there be a small rite�by which the pall�is placed over the casket during the time of the reading of the Epistle from Romans 6, "do you not know that all those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ?" The powerful combination of visual ritual and the oral word has a terrific effect upon impressing upon people a solid lasting truths that give them consolation in a time their sorrow and loss. If you have a processional cross, it would be appropriate to use that to lead people into the church or certainly out of the church, too, and if possible, even to the grave side which conducts the final portion of the funeral service. The funeral rite, as it's laid out for us in the agenda, has three components. It begins before the funeral service in terms of visitation in the home. It continues at the church where the funeral is conducted or the funeral home, as the case may be. And then it concludes grave side, if at all possible. In some communities, especially in large urban areas, it's an added expense to have a grade side rite. But I would encourage pastorally, if at all possible, that that service, that portion of the service be conducted there graveside if at all practical. It adds a certain sense of closure and confidence so that people, as they return to visit that grave site would be reminded of what they saw and heard at the time of the burial; namely, Christ's servant, again briefly but clearly articulating and speaking the Gospel, commending this body to the earth. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust in the sure and certain confidence of the hope of the resurrection unto eternal life. That they would hear ringing in their ears this final blessing which was spoken over the body of that person that they love, "may God the father who created this body, may God the son who by his blood redeemed this body, together with the soul, and may God the Holy Spirit who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be his temple keep these remains unto the day of the resurrection of all flesh." It's also appropriate at that time to have some earth or in some cases the funeral director will provide a vial�of sand to place at the time of that blessing upon the casket a sign of the cross as a visual depiction, again, of our redeemer, of his blood-bought redemption and of our confidence in the resurrection of the body. These are externals. They're only ceremonies. Greater or less of them will not make a difference. But a proper, reverent use of them can have a powerful impact upon people and add great consolation to their sorrow. Now, regarding the funeral sermon, here it's important that great care be taken in terms of preparation. A funeral sermon is an occasionally sermon. What do we mean by occasional sermon? It's a sermon that's directed to specific people at a certain circumstance. Another occasion might be, for example, a confirmation service or a wedding ceremony. In this case, a funeral service. What would be the components in a funeral sermon? Well, chiefly and foremost, of course, it would be a proclamation of God's clear word, his law and his Gospel. Now, the law, of course, is clearly and prominently displayed and depicted in the dead body that is in view. No doubt in front of the altar a casket is placed with a closed lid. However, in the sermon, it would be certainly clear to point out that death is a consequence of sin. But Christ our Lord has conquered sin and death. This is the sum total of the heart of the law and the Gospel that we want to proclaim. It would be definitely appropriate to choose a specific text that would be appropriate to the circumstances of this person's life and his or her death and the circumstances of those who mourn the death. There are volumes of resources that spell out various texts from Holy Scripture under certain contexts and conditions. And again in the pastoral agenda, these kinds of resources will be available to you. Now, as you prepare the sermon, you want to keep in mind your interaction with this person all through his or her life. That's why long pastorates are to be encouraged, as well. Your preparation for the sermon really begins much earlier, during your ministry to that person from the time you arrive in that parish until the time of this death. And it certainly becomes in earnest if that person undergoes a long, lingering illness. A lot of the texts that you're going to use in the context of your pastoral visitation, some of the hymns which you would sing�-- and I would encourage the singing of hymns at the bedside of a dying Christian�-- those hymns will be prominent in the ears of members. They will provide great consolation to people. And those hymns, then, that you use in pastoral care will ordinarily be part and parcel of the funeral service, as well. So those texts and those hymns would certainly be part of the service. Or a specially chosen text. Make that funeral sermon a textural sermon. But the components, the building blocks, if you will, the threads which you're going to weave throughout the sermon, would also include a personal image of that departed person above all his or her faith and confidence in our gracious God. The example of faith that they've given. The Bible declares "blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. Yea, says the spirit, and their works do follow them." And it's not inappropriate to speak about the works of the departed, but always make sure that those works are not the reason why we have confidence in the resurrection unto eternal life. But, rather, those works flow from love of the Lord Jesus. They exhibit genuine Christian charity. They're an example of Christian faithfulness. And the chief among those works would be the example of faithful attendance in the Lord's house and eager expectation to hear the Word of God, to receive the comfort and the blessings of the sacrament of our Lord's body and blood under bread and wine. These things, I think, would be the components of the personal side of the sermon. I might add here in this connection that if you develop a reputation amongst your congregation as being a compassionate pastor, one who clearly has in view the individual circumstances of each person for whom you preach a funeral sermon, then the kind of great clamor for being able to say "a few words," those personal eulogies will diminish because families will have confidence that their loved one will be clearly in view in the word that's preached from the pulpit. Do remember in preaching the Gospel at the time of the funeral that certainly we do not want to diminish confidence in our Heavenly home. There is great consolation as the�apostle writes "I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better." There is a better place to which we go. Our soul upon death indeed is with Christ in Heavenly glory. But do not neglect, also, to clearly articulate and spell out the other dimension of our consolation at the time of death; namely, we believe that when Jesus returns, he will also bring with him all those who have fallen asleep in him. And so this body which is placed into the earth is placed there in full confidence and expectation of the resurrection unto eternal life. Don't neglect to preach that, as well. Especially in the times in which we live, as I said before. This is part and parcel of our Christian faith, which is unique, increasingly so and stands out amongst all the other kinds of spirituality so prevalent in our time, which really diminishes and neglects the body and the created order. In the resurrection, we have confidence that body and soul will be joined together in eternal glory forever more. These are some very important things that we would want to remember when it comes to planning funeral services and funeral sermons. I hope this helps. * * * * * This is being provided in a rough-draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in Order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings * * * * *