The Christian funeral is a service of worship in which God’s people witness to their faith in the hope of the Gospel, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, and in which also assurance of God’s love and salvation in Christ is ministered, especially to the Christian bereaved.
A funeral service at First Presbyterian Church is worship of the living God. The funeral is God’s way of bringing comfort to the hearts of those who mourn as Scripture is read and preached, prayer is offered, praises are sung, grief is expressed, remembrance is cherished; and it is an occasion in which we, by the grace of God, bless the name of the One who gives and takes away. The presence of family and friends around at this time supports and strengthens the sorrowing ones. The funeral gives thanks for the life of the one who has passed away and learns from it valuable lessons.
Thus, in the funeral service, we gather primarily to worship God and confess our faith in a living Savior. Though we mourn our loss and remember our loved one, our eyes are firmly fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of the faith.
The Various Aspects of a Christian Funeral
- The Bible is central, and everything that takes place must be consistent with biblical principles of worship.
- Prayer in funerals normally includes thanksgiving for the memory of the dead, one's triumph in the resurrection of Christ, and intercession for the family and friends who remain.
- Worshipers are participants in the service; therefore, the singing of hymns, confession of faith, prayer, and hearing God’s word are appropriate means of worship.
- Since God is the object of worship, the eulogizing of a person in the worship service is discouraged.
Logistical Matters of Policy
- While many would choose the chapel at a funeral home for the memorial service, others would prefer the church building where faith is nourished, marriage vows are made, children are baptized, communion is received, and prayers are offered by the people of God.
- The practice of "viewing the remains" is not a part of the worship service; therefore, if the service is at the church, the casket should be located where the funeral service will be held and should be kept closed.
- Because fraternal or civil rites are not a part of the worship service, these organizations should pay tribute to the deceased at another hour and place.
- Many people choose to have the memorial service before the burial; others have the burial before the service. Either approach is appropriate, and the Session makes no recommendation in this regard.
- Over the years the people of God have generally avoided the practice of cremation. The Scriptures teach us that the human body is good and holy and to be treated with the greatest respect, in anticipation of the resurrection. Indeed, our Shorter Catechism reminds us that our bodies, even as they are resting in the grave, are "still united to Christ" (I Thessalonians 4:14).
- When funerals are conducted at First Presbyterian Church, staff ministers shall ordinarily conduct those services in their entirety. Session policy provides that our staff ministers have sole responsibility and discretion in carrying out the Session’s guidelines for funeral services. Only those special requests (regarding things pertaining to the service itself, whether music or a guest minister) which meet the approval of the officiating minister are acceptable. Any unusual request regarding the service itself must be approved by the Session prior to the funeral. The graveside service provides a place of participation for those other than our ministerial staff.
- As appropriate, pulpit announcement on the Lord’s Day may be made pertaining to time, date, and place of visitation and memorial service for church members. On Wednesdays at the evening service, or in Sunday School and other meetings, announcements may be made for relations of church members who themselves were not members of our church.
Frequently Asked Questions
Your ministers have prepared these brief answers to some of the questions that are often asked when a loved one is taken. It would be well to read these over when no need is in sight so that one can have these things in mind when called upon to make decisions and plans and to seek comfort in the loss of a beloved family member or friend.
What is the Purpose of a Funeral?
A funeral at First Presbyterian Church is worship of the living God. The funeral is God’s way of bringing comfort to the hearts of those who mourn as Scripture is read and preached, prayer is offered, praises are sung, grief is expressed, remembrance is cherished; and it is an occasion in which we, by the grace of God, bless the name of the One who gives and takes away. The presence of family and friends around at this time supports and strengthens the sorrowing ones. The funeral gives thanks for the life of the one who has passed away and learns from it valuable lessons.
Children and grandchildren learn things about their dear one that remind them of character qualities they need to cultivate for the days ahead. The funeral gives a sense of closure to a life and brings a certain reality to the passing that may not happen in any other way. Spiritually and psychologically it is used of God to bring us through the process of grieving. It is not something to be gotten over with; rather, we are to enter into it with expectation of God’s comfort and the easing of our pain through it.
What is the Best Place For a Funeral?
No one can answer that question for you completely, but some suggestions may be made. In the church, there are valuable memories of sacred events which will serve to comfort the hearts of those who mourn. The church is the place used for all kinds of happy experiences and to gather there to receive God’s comfort is most natural and appropriate. The church is open for you at any time that you wish to plan your service. It is your church. The ministers are ready to give priority to holding a farewell service for your loved ones and schedules can be moved around if necessary to make that happen.
The funeral home is an attractive and accessible place as well. Yet, its only associations are with death; but its environment may hold out comfort for a sorrowing family. You will have to decide that for yourself.
Graveside services are often used for simplicity and convenience, and are sometimes the expressed wish of the deceased. But one need to take into account the special limitations that graveside services place upon a family. The time must be brief. Sometimes the elements make it hard for the living who are already in a nervous condition. It may turn out to be less than the ministry of comfort than it could have been had it been held indoors.
Is Any Day All Right For A Funeral?
Yes, except that one should give serious consideration to avoiding Sunday in that one causes others to do their daily work on that particular day. Out of consideration for the staff of the funeral home and the cemetery, it would be well to consider another day.
What Do I Say When Friends Come to Call?
Thank them sincerely for their kindness. Usually they don’t know just what to say. But receive their comfort as from the Lord, and listen to it for God’s voice speaking to you through them in terms of strengthening. Don’t be afraid to talk with them about your loved one who has passed away. Put them at ease and they will be able to strengthen you even more.
What Passages of Scripture Will Help Me Most?
The word of God is a source of comfort and strength to you, especially in the Psalms.
- Psalm 1
- Psalm 23
- Psalm 24
- Psalm 27 (particularly in the death of a parent)
- Psalm 34
- John 14:1-6
- Romans 8:35-39
- II Corinthians 5
- I Peter 1
- Revelation 22
How Long Will This Deep Sorrow That I am Feeling Last?
Be patient with yourself. Sometimes when we think we have overcome the deep hurt, it returns again at little provocation. But grieve with each successive stage of your sorrow. Don’t be afraid to weep and to tell God how you feel. Seek Him in prayer and ask for His comforting help. It may take many months until you feel like yourself again, but that is not unusual. If the sorrow persists in a deep and agonizing way beyond that point, it would be important to speak to one of the pastors and find some special help at that time.
Is A Grave Site Important?
Yes. God’s people have used burial places from the most ancient times. God, Himself, buried the body of Moses. The place of burial should eventually be marked by an appropriate character description, so that grand-children and other family members can learn about their spiritual heritage from visiting it. It will be a comfort for you to be there from time to time to pray and remember and gather comfort.
In the Event of A Death, What Must I Do?
- Contact the Minister of Pastoral Care at (601) 353-8316. He can help you notify family members, if you need assistance. He can bring comfort and help to you.
- Call a funeral home of your choice. Later, they will ask you to come to the funeral home to make arrangements for the service.
- Select a resting place, if you have not done so already. Keep in mind the coming generations who will be interested in the life and character of your beloved one.
- Put your trust in God. Do not ask, "Why?" - but ask rather - "How can I find comfort and strength from the Lord that I need now?"
The Christian funeral should be a testimony to Our Lord Jesus Christ, drawing attention to Him, that the family may be comforted and non-Christian friends may come to Him through His grace. A Christian funeral can be a great climax to an earthly life that has been lived in trust and service to Jesus Christ.
Please contact our Minister of Pastoral Care Rev. Wiley Lowry. He can pray with you and help you work through the details of planning the service.