A Pastor’s Reflections: Funerals and Sinners
June 12, 2018
I was once asked to do a funeral for the grandmother of one of my younger church members. This young man told me that his grandmother was a believer, so I was a bit relieved. It’s difficult enough to do a funeral for a Christian, let alone an unbeliever who died in an unrepentant state. Nevertheless, as I stood overlooking the coffin I peered over the pulpit, took a deep breath, and then uttered these words, “This dearly loved woman lies here dead because she was a sinner.” I thought a lot about making that statement before I made it—I did not say it hastily or stupidly, that is, thoughtlessly. I wanted to make the important point, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Far too often well-intending Christians candy-coat the reality of death. We do everything we can to avoid even saying the word. People “kick the bucket,” “pass away,” “go to a better place,” or “live on in our hearts.” On the one hand, I understand our aversion to death. We somehow want to soften the blow, mitigate the reality that a loved one has died. Perhaps when we use these euphemisms we are implicitly trying to flee from death ourselves. If death is less than real, then perhaps we don’t have to worry about it so much. But in my own mind, I do what I can to use the word. I don’t have a desire to inflict pain or make people uncomfortable, but the truth of the matter is, if death isn’t so bad, then maybe the gospel isn’t so important?
We have to be very frank about the reality, finality, and cruelty of death. If we try to minimize it, we both mitigate the consequences of sin and diminish the blessings of the gospel. When I write condolence notes, or speak to someone about the loss of their loved one, I use the word death but I immediately follow it with words about the blessing of the resurrection: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Death is the just punishment for Adam’s sin that rightly falls on his offspring, but only the gospel—the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, can overcome this consequence. Even for Christians, death is our great and fierce foe, but Christ is greater, for he has conquered Satan, sin, and death.
As tempting as it might be to try and mitigate the impact of death, there is only one thing that can give us hope—the gospel of Christ and his conquest of death through the resurrection. Don’t be afraid to say someone has died because you might unintentionally rob someone of the hope of the resurrection. In saying that someone has “moved on,” or “kicked the bucket,” you might miss the opportunity to share the gospel with someone who desperately needs to hear it. So, recognize that death is real and horrible, but that Christ gives us our only hope in the face of our fierce foe.