Please Don’t Make My Funeral All About Me

I just got home from another funeral. Seems we’ve gone to more than our share lately. And once again, as I left the church, I pled with those closest to me, “Please don’t make my funeral all about me.”

large_FuneralWe were an hour and fifteen minutes in to today’s funeral before anyone read from the scriptures, and further in until there was a prayer. Resurrection wasn’t mentioned until the benediction. There were too many funny stories to tell about the deceased, too many recollections, too many good things to say about the things she accomplished to speak of what Christ has accomplished on her behalf.

But then this wasn’t a funeral. It was a “Celebration of Life.” In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything. Christ and his saving benefits could not be made much of because death and its cruelties were largely ignored.

Write It Down

When we sit a funeral, I suppose few of us can resist allowing our thoughts to wander to thinking about who might show up when we are the one in the casket. We can’t help but think about who will speak and what will be said. Of course when that day comes, especially if it comes unexpectedly, we’re not here to express what we hope our funeral will say about who we were, or, more importantly, whose we were.

So I have decided to write it down. When I die, you won’t have to wonder what I would have wanted. You’ll know. You’ll know that nothing would make me happier than for my funeral to be all about Christ instead of all about me. Please make it all about his righteous life and not my feeble efforts at good works. Make it about his coming to defeat death and not my courage (or lack thereof) in the face of death. Make it about his emergence from the grave with the keys to death and the grave, which changes everything about putting my body into a grave.

Sure, my name will come up. You can express gratitude that God chose me and drew me to himself. You can thank him for transforming me from a spiritually dead little girl into a spiritually alive and therefore indestructible co-heir with Christ. You can praise God for his mercy that is wide enough and his anger that is slow enough and his love that is steadfast enough for a repeat offender like me to be drawn into his good graces. You can honor God for being true to his promise to cause all things to work together for my good and thank him for allowing me to see some of that good in my lifetime. You can thank him for his Word that is living enough and active enough to pierce deep inside me, dividing joint and marrow, exposing my shallow beliefs and hidden motives, going to work in me to renew me and give me the mind of Christ.

You can shout at my funeral if you want to. Shout praise to the God who raised Christ from the dead, providing a preview of what will happen to my body because I am joined to Christ. You can mock the defeated desires of the Devil by shouting that neither life nor death can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.

You can cry at my funeral if you want to. But don’t think for a minute that my death is tragic. No matter how it happens, no matter when; it simply can’t be a tragedy. Leaving this world with all of its sin-sickness to enter into the beauty and perfection and peace of the presence of Christ is something to anticipate, not avoid. Death, for me, will not be the second-best option to a longer life here. To be with Christ will not be a minor improvement on this life, but “far better” (Phil. 1:23). You can cry, but I hope your tears are, at least in part, tears of joy that I have entered into the joy of my Master.

Don’t Believe It

While someone might sentimentally suggest that I am looking down on all that is happening or listening in to what is being said, don’t believe it. My faith will have become sight, and my eyes will be fixed on my beautiful Savior. I will have found my place among “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:23), and my spirit will not linger here.

What you must not do at my funeral is make it all about me. What I want most is that “Christ will be honored in [my] body, whether in life or in death” (Phil.1:20). Those gathered that day have no need for a sanitized, idealized rendition of who I was or what I accomplished. On that day, in fact on every day until that day, “he must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

I am not afraid to look the king of terrors in the face,

For I know I shall be drawn, not driven, out of the world.

Until then let me continually glow and burn out for thee,

And when the last great change shall come, let me awake in thy likeness.

— The Valley of Vision

  • Deb Felak

    Thank you Nancy! This goes along well with the discussions on White Horse Inn this week.

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  • Jimmy

    Amen! “To die is gain!” And funeral should be a celebration about The Victor Himself!

  • John

    Hi Nancy,

    While I share your lament about the lack of resurrection-talk in funerals put on by Christians, I see things differently on another of your points.

    I believe that death is always a tragedy. Death comes as a consequence of sin. Death diminishes the good creation of God. Death forces a separation between body and soul in the individual that was not meant to be. Death takes our loved ones from our presence. Death snuffs out life. Death is an enemy to those who love life. That people feel pain or become overwhelmed with emotion when others die is perfectly normal and appropriate in the face of such a vicious and merciless enemy.

    Furthermore, that death is such a tragedy is what makes the resurrection such a powerful hope. Resurrection is about reuniting body and soul, about remaking that which death has ruined, about undoing the work that death has done. Therefore, when we mitigate the power or impact of death, we also mitigate the power or impact of the resurrection.

    • Nate B

      When my brother died, I told the pastor who preached at his funeral to “preach the gospel.” He did and he did an excellent job with it. People thought about their own mortality and became Christians that day.

      However, if I could have another shot at it, I would have liked to share a few memories. At the time, I was so messed up and shocked that I was not in a state to speak about his memories. The pastors who did my brother’s funeral did a great job with confronting people with the message of Christ. However, I often wonder if someone in our family could have shared a few memories of my bro. I would have wanted a few more recollections, a few more funny stories. Characterizing the person who has passed is a good thing.

      But I think there is a balance between presenting the Gospel—-for those who are avoiding God and then also remembering that person. After a person dies——we no longer see their personality and that is a hard reality to deal with.

    • Nancy Guthrie

      The resurrection is what will rob my physical death of any sense of tragedy. My death may feel tragic to those who love me, and certainly they will feel sad. But that is not the same as it being a tragedy, which is defined as that which has a disastrous conclusion. Spiritual death is a tragedy. Dying apart from Christ is a tragedy. But physical death for the person joined to Christ by faith will not have a disastrous conclusion. My physical death will not snuff out my life. Yes, death is an enemy, but Christ has defeated this enemy so that it cannot have the last word in my life.

      • John

        Thanks for responding, Nancy. Given your definition of tragedy, I don’t think we’re too far apart. I have used the word in a broader sense to indicate, as Webster says, “a disastrous event,” without the sense of conclusion you indicate, such as we might see in a Shakespeare play. With that in mind, I would say death is tragic because it brings disastrous circumstances into our world, because it inspires lament and sadness and pain in those left behind, and because it is the best reminder we have that this world is not what it is meant to be.

        My broader concern is to see that the Bible presents death as our enemy, not as something to anticipate. No one eagerly anticipates an encounter with their enemy. Not even Jesus looked forward to His death, and He knew the end of the story then better than any of us do now!

        Sure, believers can and should take solace that we will be present with the Lord upon our deaths (2 Cor. 5). But we must also recognize that even in that blessed state, we will remain incomplete until the resurrection of our bodies at the end of all things. In this way, death is not the solution to our problems. Rather, we endure death as we eagerly await the resurrection.

        Thanks for the conversation.

    • autumn

      My thoughts exactly!

  • Judyallbrite

    I think it’s presumptuous for the dead to tell the living what to do at their funeral. Death is tragic and the separation it causes is painful. The creation is groaning in decay, and this is not more evident than when we lose a loved one.

    It is not up to us to tell our loved ones how to celebrate our life or mourn the loss of it. I can never fully know what I mean to others and it’s not up to me to tell them how to feel about my death.

    Sure, we are all sinners, but we are also created in the image of God and are the pinnacle of his creation. All humans have inherent beauty, and it is proper to celebrate it and also mourn its loss.

    • Mike

      Funerals are a combination of how the deceased wants to be remembered/celebrated/mourned and what the living wants and/or needs as they process their grief/pain. It needs to allow for both.

  • Jeff S

    “But don’t think for a minute that my death is tragic. No matter how it happens, no matter when; it simply can’t be a tragedy.”

    Death is a scandal. We were never meant to die. Death is always a tragedy, even if, like all things, it is worked for good by God. But death is not generally presented in scripture as a good thing (only the state beyond physical death).

    If people want to grieve, celebrate, sing, or cry at my funeral, they can deal with it in their own way. Dealing with death is one of the most difficult things in this life because, again, it is unnatural. Rather than judge how other people handle it, I think it is far better to find ways to meet them in their pain and help them find comfort in Christ.

  • Michael Jamison

    You can’t see me, but I’m giving you a big standing ovation for this.

  • Nate B

    I often find that Christians really aren’t sure how to grieve. I’ve found so many answers in Christianity on so many aspects of life, but often times I feel like we have contrasting ideas when it comes to grief.
    On the one hand, as you said in your article, the funeral you attended was a “Celebration of Life.” This seems normal. Remembering a person’s character is very important as is the reminder that there is a God, there is a heaven and that the person who died is with God. If there is no mention of God, then a funeral seems a bit like forced hope and lots of forced stories. Yet if we only talk about heaven, the fact that the person is in heaven, the resurrection from the dead, and attempt to stoically block out negative emotions. I think that sometimes if we just take hold of the “this is not about the person who died” mentality, we can sort of unemotionally attend a funeral and this seems strange. “I’m blocking out the pain for the sake of anyone watching.”
    You say this:
    “In fact there was really little mention of death or of the ugly way sickness slowly robbed our friend of everything. Christ and his saving benefits could not be made much of because death and its cruelties were largely ignored.”
    How does a family integrate this into a funeral service? Doesn’t this allow for people to weep and cry for the reality of death in this world? The loss in this world?
    Generally, I think it is difficult to ask everyone at a funeral to only feel praise to God for the entire hour (or longer) of a funeral. I say this from past experience of personally judging (myself doing the judging) or getting the impression that if anyone acts sad or cries that they are “struggling with their faith” or lack an eternal perspective. I think it must be both allowances for sad-ness (real earthly sadness) and also for the recognition of heaven.

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  • Marlon Tillman

    Great reminder Nancy. For those who die in the Lord, death is an entrance into His glory. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 8 that death now works on our behalf (more than conquers). Yes, the one who died is now victorious. But Paul also has something for the ones who remain; 1st Thes. 4:13-18. Verse 18 tells us to comfort one another with these words. The only comfort for those who remain is the Word of God. Funny stories may make us laugh for a moment, but God’s Word will provide lasting comfort in an umcomfortable situation.

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  • Tommy G.

    Thanks for your article. When I die I hope my family and freinds will gather to remember that I will be resurrected to enjoy Jesus’ company forever. Still, I understand mourning the loss that we feel at a loved one’s funeral. We don’t mourn that we will not see our loved one again. We morn that we will not have Sunday dinner with her next week.

  • Dennis Mullen

    Well said. I have always been amazed that people will say that their deceased Mom or Dad are watching over them. What a terrible curse that would be. In Christ, they have every tear wiped away, death is no more, no mourning, no crying, no pain, those former things will have passed away. They are too busy falling down and praising a Holy God. Swimming in the River of Life, gazing upon the tree of life with its seasons of fruit, and leaves of healing swimming to the throne of God where they will see His face. All in dazzling blazing light of Glory.

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