There are only two ‘types’ of funeral. What? you say.
Yep! Only two types are ‘performed’ (formats are followed) in the western world, although no doubt there are many more in other parts of the world. But even in those other parts, in essence there are still only two.
Many of us have probably attended both types whether or not the stark difference between the two was noted.
The almost universal funeraille
In the vast spiritual desert that is secular Australia, one type noticeably dominates the ‘funeraille landscape’.
This is the funeral often presided over by a kindly, eloquent well-presented wo/man of varying age who, as at most funerals of both ‘types’ speaks gracious words about the departed loved one, friend or associate. The presider is commonly called a funeral celebrant.
Even after the passage of many years, one such funeral service stands out to me still. The dear old lady had been a long-standing client. Including the celebrant, there were 14 of us at the service.
Memorable for the wrong reason
The two songs played were ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘I am just a poor boy’ (goin’ home) by Simon & Garfunkel.
After all of the mourners had left the small funeral-home chapel, I could not resist approaching and asking a question of the nice old man who had presided.
‘What is your understanding of what happened to the deceased? Oh, she has ‘returned to the elements’ was the prompt and confident reply. Not a comforting uplifting reply I thought. But there was clearly no point in pursuing it so I thanked him and left.
Recently, my wife and I attended another such funeral, this time of a 53 year old local man who had operated a successful business employing about 23 staff. He had been prominent in the community into which he had been born, married locally and had equally successfully raised two adult children. He was well-known and well-liked.
A matter of weeks after returning with family and friends from an overseas surfing trip to an exotic location, the pain he was experiencing was diagnosed as widespread cancer and within a few more weeks we attended his funeral.
During a surprisingly short period of time he had been reduced from a strong broad-shouldered good-looking athletic guy to a mere shell of a man lying on a palliative care bed.
Again, the songs of the world were the music of choice and it was a great celebration of a good life sadly and tragically cut short, with many words spoken of worthy praise, plus the inevitable comment that so-and-so will have another beer with him somewhere someday.
As the hearse bearing the coffin slowly proceeded down the long driveway, a pastor and I spotted each other and quietly conversed that there had not been a single spiritual word spoken/sung either in address, family/friend comments or song, and no Bible reading or prayer.
A divine meeting
What hundreds of people had witnessed and listened to did not convey the slightest warning of the possibility of an appalling ever-so brief meeting (that may have already taken place) between the departed and God, which belief in Jesus avoids. The people went away as unaware and uninformed as when they entered.
But the funeral address could have been one about great hope and a calm future, for God says:
I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me “when” you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you. (Jeremiah chapter 29 verses 11-13).
Whilst the details of that critical meeting were very personal between the deceased and God and not for us to know, Jesus still warns clearly today that those who die not knowing Him will devastatingly hear Him say to them at their meeting: I never knew you. Away from Me you evildoer. (Matthew chapter 7 verse 23).
Then immediately follows the horrifying endless loneliness of the second death…which is irreversible.
But thank the LORD
There is the other ‘type’ of funeral that we joyfully attend.
Recently, we attended the funeral of an 80 year-old man in whose home with his dear wife of well over fifty years and with others, we had attended many Bible studies enjoying great teaching and fellowship followed by sumptuous suppers, they having been well-known pillars of the same congregation.
I had the privilege of visiting him in hospital (with devoted family at his bedside) less than 12 hours before he quietly departed this world and was welcomed by Jesus into the next. When I sat beside him and placed my hand on his shoulder he had opened his eyes, recognised me, gripped my other hand tightly for the duration of my stay, and muttered a few unclear words.
His memorial service was a noticeably different celebration. Apart from the copious tears of a teenage grandson overwhelmed by the occasion, not a tear in the church was shed - a large uplifting happy Christian celebration of a life well-lived, now forever home at last.
This time there was singing with gusto of spiritual praise to the LORD of glory, and many gracious sincere words spoken by a close friend, by 7 of his 8 grandchildren and lastly by his lovely widow about the wonderful man who now resides for evermore safely in that glorious place with the LORD of heavenly host.
He had left his earthly body behind having now received: the goal of [his] faith, the salvation of [his] soul. (1 Peter chapter 1 verse 9). His LORD had brought him: safely to His heavenly kingdom. (2 Timothy chapter 4 verse 18).
You can’t ask for more than that spectacular eternal outcome.
Gavin Lawrie is a retired Barrister and Solicitor from Tweed Heads NSW Australia and author of the book: 'THE EVIDENCE OF EVOLUTION: Uncovering The Faulty Science Of Dawkins' Attack On Creationism'. He is married to Jan with two adult children and they are grandparents.
Gavin Lawrie's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/gavin-lawrie.html