Tomorrow I lead a funeral service. Such services have the purpose of bringing the church and the friends of the person who has died together to support the family. The service does this and so does the visitation the night before and the family meal afterwards. Another purpose of the service is to remember, so we do a eulogy. The eulogy results from an interview with the family. The interview produces a short remembrance, which is personal and often humorous. The interview allows the closest family members to form a narrative about their lost loved one. This interview gives me information for the eulogy. It also is healing for the family.
But, of course, the service has another purpose. It is a worship service. In this sense, the service is not about the deceased. I tell my wife that when I die, she is to get someone who doesn’t know me at all to officiate–because I don’t want anybody talking about me at my funeral. It is a joke with a serious point.
When the eulogy dominates, the service becomes centered only on the person who has died. Wasn’t it Theodore Roosevelt about whom someone said, “He wants to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral”? In other words, he always wanted to be the center of attention. But church weddings and church funerals are worship services so the bride and the corpse need to be displaced in some way.
I find the best way to do this at a funeral is to go ahead and do the eulogy. Do it well. But keep it short and do not make it the center of the service. I never figured out how to keep the bride from being the center of attention at a wedding.
Ultimately the service is about God. One of my old professors used to say, “Find a way to say a good word about God, even on Mother’s Day and Boy Scout Sunday.” I think that at a funeral people may especially need such a word.
So tomorrow I will focus on Psalm 73:26: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the rock (or strength) of my heart and my portion forever.”
Of course our flesh fails. Elsewhere scripture says that all flesh is like grass and flowers. The grass withers and the flower fades. But our heart also fails. This failure is a process that takes place over the years. It is not just death itself. In the Bible the heart is not just the seat of emotion, but also of thought and desire. So, for instance, in senility your heart may fail while your flesh remains relatively strong. But, according to the psalmist, our stability or foundation is not in our own strength of flesh and heart; we instead have a stable rock in God. Here is a strength to rely on when our own physical and intellectual abilities fail.