Funeral Palls

Funerals are odd events. Normally, if you are going to invite all of your friends and family over, you have weeks or months to prepare—think of the resources called into play for most weddings. But for a funeral, the deceased might have left a few notes about Bible texts they’d like to be read or their favorite songs, but often there is very little put down about colors or flowers or who will attend and who might speak. Add the fact that you usually have to pull something together in days, not weeks or months, all while working through raw emotions. And then there is the grief, that strange and dark emotion most of us have not had the misfortune to get used to or good at dealing with.

My dad died some years back, and I recall going to the funeral home with my mother and siblings to make the arrangements. Still reeling from his abrupt death, we had to make necessary, but at the time seemingly silly, decisions about a host of things. Probably the worst was picking out a casket. My dad would have chosen a cardboard coffin, but it was our decision, so his body would be getting the walnut and brass model.

A Pall Settled

We’ve all probably used the word “pall” sometime in a sentence like “After he left the meeting, a pall settled around everyone who remained.” But a pall is also a cloth draped over a coffin, and outside of seeing a flag used as a pall in a military funeral, I’m guessing few of us have seen one used. That’s too bad. With the right symbolism it could visually connect our unity with Christ in baptism with his death and resurrection, as we too will be resurrected with physical bodies.

Sized and engineered correctly, it could be hung vertically for baptisms and Easter and used as a tablecloth when celebrating communion.

A Little Color

In the Middle Ages, a pall was made of finely patterned fabric elaborately sewn together—so beautifully crafted that sometimes they were made into vestments for clergy. Protestants weren’t impressed—they favored simple, black fabric. These days you can find palls mostly in white.

Like those available from online suppliers, this design is scaled for an eight-by-twelve-foot pall and incorporates a cross shape, but the technique (traditional quilting using common fabrics) and design offer something less formal.

In the middle of traditional flower arrangements, a pall could become a warm and rich visual, perfect, I think, for covering even the simplest casket—perhaps even a cardboard one.

Dean Heetderks is a member of Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Cutlerville, Michigan, and art director of Reformed Worship. Show and tell him about your experiences at

Reformed Worship 132 © June 2019, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.