Thinking it through

Ready for your funeral? The wisdom of planning ahead

Ready for your funeral? The wisdom of planning ahead
Stephen Rees
Stephen Rees Stephen Rees is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Stockport.
11 January, 2024 14 min read

On a bleak Thursday afternoon last week I stood with a circle of friends around an open grave. We had gathered to lay to rest the body of a dear Christian friend. I had known Jack for more than forty years. And now the time had come to say farewell for a time.

We read Scripture, great words of promise and hope. Then in a few sentences I explained the purpose for which we had gathered. I used words I had used many times before: ‘Now we are going to commit the body of our dear brother to the care of Almighty God until the day of resurrection and judgment. I say we commit his body to the care of God. We do not commit his soul to God. We have no need to do that. He committed his own soul to God many years ago. And now his soul is in the presence of God. But today we lay his body to rest until the Lord Jesus raises it up in glory.’

As the bearers lowered the coffin into the grave, I spoke familiar words, ‘We commit the body of Jack Jones to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.’

And then I turned to the silent listeners: ‘The Bible tells us that dust we are and to dust we shall return. The Bible tells us also that there is to be a day of resurrection. The multitudes who sleep in the dust of the ground shall awake – some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens.

‘Jesus said, “The time is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. And God has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”’

Funerals: an inescapable duty 

Every pastor must expect to take many funerals in the course of his ministry. Some pastors make it their policy never to refuse when asked to take a funeral. They see each one as an opportunity to preach the gospel, often to people who will never enter a church building on any other occasion. I honour them for that single-mindedness. For my part, the only funerals I conduct are those of people whom I’ve known personally – usually members of our own congregation, or their immediate relatives. So the majority of the folk whose funerals I’ve taken have been believers; only occasionally has it fallen to me to take the funeral of someone who has never shown any sign of repentance and faith.

Those are the hardest funerals. What comfort or reassurances can we give when we have no reason to hope that the body we are laying in the ground will be raised to everlasting life? Or that the soul is safe with Christ? Yes, we can use the occasion to preach the gospel and to urge others to be prepared. And perhaps it’s good for me to have the responsibility of taking such a funeral from time to time. Each one forces me to ask myself whether I am doing everything I can to make Christ known to neighbours, friends, relatives while they are in this world. But still, my heart sinks when I know that once again I have the grim duty of presiding over a comfortless ceremony.

But, thank God, this was not such an occasion. No funeral is easy. But in many ways, this was less demanding than most.

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