Questions of life and death
The first page of the Funeral service for reading quietly beforehand – says:
‘God’s love and power extend over all creation. Every life, including our own, is precious to God. Christians have always believed that there is hope in death as in life, and that there is new life in Christ after death.’
For all involved, a funeral service may raise profound personal questions about the meaning of life and death. Christians believe that Christ’s death and resurrection are the triumph of good over evil and of life over death and have opened the gate to eternal life for us. Most Christians would describe hell as separation from the love of God. The separation is never what God wants, it is our own responsibility. Heaven, on the other hand, is about knowing and delighting in the presence and love of God and of the whole company of heaven. Whatever is wonderful about life here on earth is only a glimpse of the life that is to come.
There may not be much time around the funeral to reflect on these things, but make space later on to come back to them. Parish clergy and others involved in the service will be glad to offer help in thinking through how you have been affected personally.
Funerals in the Church of England
A funeral marks the close of a human life on earth. It is the opportunity for friends and family to express their grief, to give thanks for the life of someone at the end of their Journey in this world and to commend them into God’s keeping. The Funeral service of the Church of England can be simple and quiet with only a few members of the family present or an occasion of great solemnity with music, hymns and a packed church. It may take place in a parish church or a crematorium chapel, and may come from the Prayer Book or from Common Worship.
Whatever the pattern of service, the words and actions all speak of a loving God and the preciousness to him of every human being, and, in particular, the person you love who has died. Everyone has a right to a funeral in the Church of England church in their parish, whether or not they were a churchgoer. Parish clergy see the taking of funerals as an important part of their work and will gladly give their time to talk to those who are facing loss, to be with them in their pain, and to help to arrange whatever kind of funeral service is most appropriate.
What happens in the Funeral service?
It may be helpful to look at the general order of events.
Entry of the coffin
Traditionally, the minister meets the coffin at the door of the church or crematorium, or at the graveyard gate, and leads the procession, saying some reassuring words from the Bible, such as: ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ says the Lord. ‘Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’
Alternatively, the coffin may be brought into church some time before the service (sometimes on the day before), or the mourners may be seated first: these options avoid processing behind the coffin, which some find distressing, as well as giving time to pray quietly before the service.
Welcome and introduction
The minister welcomes those present, introduces the service and says a prayer. Then there might be a hymn, and a tribute spoken about the person who has died. This might be done by members of the family or friends, or by the minister using notes supplied by the family. Sometimes symbols of the person’s life and faith are placed on or near the coffin as part of this. The coffin may also be sprinkled with the water of baptism.
This is followed by a prayer for forgiveness – a sense of letting someone down is often an unspoken thought in people’s minds.
Readings and sermon
A psalm – perhaps ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ – follows and there are readings telling of God’s care and of the hope of eternal life. The sermon brings these great Christian beliefs about life beyond death into focus in the context of this particular death, bringing comfort and strength to the mourners.
In the prayers we give thanks for the life of the person who has died and pray for God’s presence with those who mourn. The Lord’s Prayer may follow.
Commendation and Farewell
The minister stands by the coffin and, if appropriate, the mourners may gather round too. A period of silence leads into the prayer of commendation, in which the person who has died is entrusted to the love and mercy of God.
If burial is to take place in the churchyard, or local cemetery, the committal takes place at the graveside. The mourners gather round the open grave into which the coffin is lowered and they hear the words: ‘We now commit his/her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.’ Handfuls of earth may then be scattered on the coffin.
If cremation is to follow a service in church, the words of committal may either be said in church before the hearse leaves or in the crematorium itself. The words may be accompanied by the coffin moving slowly out of sight, or the closing of a curtain to hide it from view.
The committal can be a very emotional moment, but many who are suffering grief find that, even in their sadness, the words of prayer can lift them towards the experience of Christian hope in the knowledge of life beyond death.
After the funeral
People who have lost someone close to them are often so busy with practical details and arrangements between the death and the funeral that they do not experience the full sense of their loss until later.
Grieving is a natural and important part of coming to terms with and healing this loss and it may continue for a long time. Your parish clergy are always willing to try to help. You will often find that it is those who have suffered a close bereavement themselves, clergy or lay people, who can most easily offer comfort and support to those who mourn. Sometimes the prayers from the service, a few of which are on this leaflet, may help us find comfort in the promises of Jesus Christ.
Heal the memories of hurt and failure. Give us the wisdom and grace to use aright the time that is left to us here on earth, to turn to Christ and follow in his steps in the way that leads to everlasting life.
The following website also provides advice on all aspects of a death including funerals and planning ahead http://www.lastingpost.com
Questions of life and death