I love doing funerals. As a young pastor, I now have nine under my belt. It seems I enjoy them more with each one. To be honest, I haven’t had any difficult funerals to do yet. No tragic circumstances or painful dynamics to deal with. Each one being a dear old saint, ready to be united with Christ in the heavens.
I did not expect this. I never considered it. I think I figured it would just be one of the ministerial responsibilities I dutifully fulfill in the midst of the other “important” tasks that I really care about. In seminary, I learned how to conduct a good funeral. I watched and asked many careful questions. However, I did not anticipate the immense privilege and honour that it is to lead a funeral. I had no idea I would enjoy it so much!
It is at the point of death that the rubber hits the road for our faith. This is where the good news of Jesus Christ really, truly matters.
We were not created to die. But sadly this has become our destiny. It’s the wages of our sin, the Apostle Paul writes. Even with a good long life, the body withers and weakens, and breath is snuffed out. Life as we know it ends.
And so we arrive at the funeral. Friends and family are gathered in the pews. I stand in the pulpit. The lifeless body of the departed lies before us in a fancy wooden box, never to be seen again. The encouragement of the deceased’s warm smile never to be received, words of wise instruction never to be heard, rolling laughter never to lift our spirits. The loved one is gone.
It is in these moments that I am privileged to declare the good news of Jesus Christ. I take part in the sacred honour of declaring life, where before us all signs point to death. What a joy! This is not the end of the story, I declare. I point to Jesus, our Creator who was crucified, but three days later he returned to life. The Deceiver had levied the best trick in his bag. But it wasn’t enough. Jesus demonstrated in power and glory that he is greater than death. Because of Jesus, life will reign. Because of Jesus, those who are in Christ will live forevermore.
Rather than the cold, stiff corpse that lies before us, our loved one lives on in the heavens, in the presence of the Lord. One day all those saints who have died will receive their new resurrection bodies. One day, when all things are fully and finally made new, they will work and play in the new heavens and new earth. It will be beautiful. God will be there. Death won’t even be a memory. Life will abound.
The shovelfuls of earth hit the casket. More heaving sobs are released. The mourners turn away from the graveside with weak knees and exhausted emotions. Life going forward is not going to be easy. It’s difficult to adjust. The loved one will be dearly missed and there will be tears for months to come. But we walk away with great hope. Life has overcome death.
This may be unusual to say, but I am looking forward to the next funeral I will have the honour of officiating. There’s no better time to proclaim the good news of Jesus.
Ryan Jantzi pastors Kingsfield-Zurich Mennonite Church, Ont., where he’s fascinated with exploring the interplay between traditional church and new expressions of mission.