A Celebration of Life service OR A Celebration of Christ Service

From a Hymn I've chosen for my own funeral, whenever God should call me Home.

Over the years I have witnessed a change in focus in the typical evangelical funeral service. However, the changes were so subtle that I did not notice them until I recently attended a Lutheran Funeral service. What I encountered at the Lutheran service has left me thinking hard about how far the evangelical focus on Christ has fallen, even at a funeral. As a child I remember hearing both Law and Gospel at funerals. We were reminded that the person was saved, not because of anything they’d done but because of Christ. However, the past few funerals I’ve attended in the past two or three years, that focus is now on the person. They were a “good person”, “loved the Lord”, etc. However, knowing some of them I know even by the world’s standards they weren’t “good” nor did they evidence any love for the Lord as they hardly attended a worship service. Granted, none are good as the Bible tells us, but sadly I’ve found that even evangelicals are forgetting to focus on Christ and the power of His Resurrection and instead zoom in on the deceased. So, my experience recently told me that even in funeral services Lutherans have neither forgotten the Law or Gospel.

One week ago this past Sunday, my husband and I attended the funeral service for our Pastor’s mom. To say that a Lutheran funeral is different than an evangelical one is to try and compare the burst of sunlight with that of a candle. This funeral made quite the impression on me…and that’s an understatement. Now, my mom converted to Lutheranism about 5 years before she died and her funeral was quite beautiful, but I think with the emotions I was going through I probably did not fully see the stark contrast. I was more aware of the content of the service at this funeral and that is where my thoughts go today.

This Sunday, before church, I was reading The Defense Never Rests by Craig A. Parton. In it, this line jumped out at me: “A good barometer of a church is what it does for a funeral, and especially what it does with Good Friday.”[1] I’ve been Lutheran now over a year and I can certainly say that the Good Friday service was one unlike any I’d attended before. It focused upon sin, death, the Law, judgment and ended with that work of redemption which Jesus did for the world on the Cross of Calvary. However, attending a Lutheran funeral was going to be something even more foreign to my evangelical and even reformed experiences.

We arrived a few minutes late and the congregation had already begun singing songs which she had chosen before being called Home. That is one difference. Our pastor actually encourages us to choose the hymns to be sung at our funeral ahead of time, which I’ve have been compiling for my own funeral. When we arrived the congregation, pews filled with those she’d worshipped God with, her friends and family, were singing loudly Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty. Immediately our attention was placed exactly where it should be; on our Great God and Savior. Next the Pastor briefly explained why the coffin was draped in white. This was never done in an evangelical service and, to my new Lutheran eyes, reminded me a bit of Roman Catholicism. However, since Luther’s intent was never to destroy the good things of the Church in its History but only to correct what was corrupted, I listened carefully to the pastor’s explanation as follows:

The casket may be covered with a funeral pall. The pall serves as a reminder that the deceased was baptized into the Christian faith and covered with the robe of Christ’s righteousness that Jesus purchased through His death and resurrection.