Death and Dying
“We are always losing things,” I once heard a wise and seasoned pastor preach. Whether it means the loss of loved ones through death or divorce, jobs through layoffs or dismissals, hope through disappointments and discouragement, or opportunities to make amends, our journey through life is as much about loss as it is gain. Jesus himself assumed as much when he taught that if we want to gain life for eternity, we must be willing to lose along the way.
The following service could be held at any time during the church year but would be especially appropriate at the end of the year or around All Saints’ Day. In this congregation particular mention was made of all who had died in the previous two years, but that could be extended or shortened.
As people walk in they are given the opportunity to go to the front of the sanctuary and light a candle in memory of their loved one.
Funeral planning is a growing pastoral challenge. Even ten years ago, families mostly left planning to the pastor, who worked to personalize each service. Now, families often make requests of the pastor—but many don’t fit well in a Christian funeral. So how might pastors respond wisely to such requests and even proactively avoid them?
In my ministry with seniors, I have discovered that while some may be hesitant to talk about their own deaths, it is an important pastoral focus that can lead to very meaningful discussions.
To facilitate that conversation I created a funeral planning form (“My Funeral Preferences,” see p. 37) which I’ve found to be a helpful tool. Asking an elderly person about favorite Bible passages and songs can lead to rich sharing. Some great questions are:
As I write this article I am listening to a song by Casting Crowns titled “Only Jesus,” and I’m immediately brought back to October 5, 2018, when it was sung at the last funeral service I led. Karen was 33 years old. A five-year survivor of a double lung transplant she needed because of cystic fibrosis, she passed away as a result of the West Nile virus. Her funeral was the second one I officiated in just six weeks for someone under 36. The first was for Curtis, who passed away after a stroke.