Rumours of Grace: Someone has passed away: Now what?
This means that none of us will escape the day when a grandparent, parent, guardian, sibling, other loved one or friend will die.
When that happens, should we opt for a traditional funeral, or a more modern “celebration of life”, or a casual event such as an open house. This is the question I’m looking at here.
Many, if not most Canadians, respond to a death in the family with a funeral service in a church or in a chapel of the local funeral home. In a typical situation the funeral director makes sure that all is arranged; the place and time of the service, whether or not there will be a reception afterwards and the service, if any, at the grave or wherever ashes may be placed.
In addition, many families choose to have a “visitation” the evening before the funeral. This gives people another opportunity to express their care for the family in case they cannot be at the actual funeral. Often people attend both.
As for the actual service, often a priest, minister or pastor leads it. He or she can be expected to make room for the family to share memories of the person who has passed away. Typically there will be a few readings from the Christian Bible, prayers, some music and some words about the Christian assurance of resurrection, the term signifying life after death. Beyond death there will come a day when God will release the bodies of all persons from the earth, water, fire and other agents of decay that have consumed them.
But the main thing I want to highlight here is the trend to move away from funerals to “celebrations of life”. And further along that same trend, some decline to have a service at all. Some of us settle for an open house, or a fairly casual get together to honour the memory of the person.
The current tendency is to move away from church-based funerals to celebrations and less formal events. This reveals an approach to life that sees all of us as more or less natural products of biological developments. After the body dies, there is nothing left of the person except memories, pictures and some personal possessions.
So why make more of the death-event than is warranted? Share some conversation about the deceased, have a coffee or something stronger and enjoy the catering. The departed person would not like anyone, after all, to be glum.
But I think that we do need to accept the challenge of commemorating the death of a loved one or friend by recognizing the seriousness of that person’s death. This is because for a human being to die is an event of monumental importance. Here’s why:
In the opening pages of the Bible we find that human beings are created to be a picture of God. We are created “in God’s image”.
The God we meet there is creative. He has the capacity to rule, and to do that wisely. He works and he rests. Every human being shares in these dynamics. We are created to rule wisely, to work and rest, and to be creative. Further, all humans live under the blessing of God to “fill the earth”: to grow their families and societies, to gather into tribes and to build cities.
Each of us is a being of enormous significance. How we use our significance and powers is another question. My only point here is that our coming into the world and our departure are not casual events; they are momentous. They should be recognized with appropriate seriousness, joy and prayer.