Years ago, I attended a funeral of an older man from my church. This church was in the heart of an urban city and was surrounded by drugs and poverty. But the church had a thriving ministry and more than 300 people regularly attended. The funeral that day was packed out. But the man, Robert, was little known. I knew him from our men’s lunches. I often ate lunch with him after a worship service. He was kind, caring, and invited me into his life while I was living in the area. But he and his wife did not have a wide circle of friends. Nevertheless, everyone came to the funeral. I mean everyone. The entire church came out for it.
Because year after year, we heard our pastor say, “When one member grieves, we all grieve. That’s what family does.”
I remember talking to the funeral director afterward. He was stunned by how many came to this funeral for a man whom the world did not know. He asked me, “What is it about this church that people would give up their day for a funeral like this?” Robert had no impressive career. He had no impressive influence. His resume was unremarkable. He was older and had many physical problems, so he was not as involved in the church as he used to be. Most of the congregation did not know him as a result (to their loss!).
But Robert was a brother in our church. We all were in covenant membership with him and his wife. That mattered more than anything else. He was closer than a blood relative; he was united to us through Another’s blood.
My pastor happened to be standing beside me and answered the director, “This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We are family.”
And so, we went to funerals of people we hardly knew in our church. Often the funerals propelled us to make sure we were getting to know others in our church before it was too late.
Let me encourage you to something: consider attending every funeral that occurs in your church’s life. And if you are a pastor, disciple your members to attend funerals.
The Christian community can be distinct by going to funerals of everyone in your church. At funerals, we display to the world what the body of Christ is like. At funerals, we display what commitment looks like in a covenant body. When we take our membership vows, we are not joining a hobby or a club. We join a body. A body needs all its members—especially at a funeral.
Who hasn’t been to a funeral where only a few showed up? Didn’t you feel sorry for the grieving family member? Now imagine that family member watching as an entire church arrives at the funeral, proclaiming not with words but in actions, “You are part of our family, the family of God.”
Funerals interrupt our lives. They are unplanned. They disrupt your schedule. That’s often why we don’t go to them unless we have a personal connection. But the very fact that they are disruptive to our lives is a grace of God. They invite us into a different liturgy, a different rhythm of life, one that our busy world tries to push to the sides. When we break free of our personal calendars and embrace the disruption of a funeral, we walk according to the life of Christ, not the life of the world. Christians are distinct.
And the world takes notice. In such a funeral, the church puts on display the beauty and the glory of the body of Christ. It shows the world what true community looks like. It invites others to join and participate in this kind of true humanity found only in the body of Jesus.
But not only you should come. Bring the children.
All my children come to funerals with me. It’s not an option in the Lyons household, and it’s not because I’m a pastor. A century ago, children were regularly exposed to scenes of the dying. They often had an elderly grandparent in their own home who was dying. But nowadays, our culture has done everything it can to sanitize death and remove it from the minds of children. We remove the dying to nursing homes and hospitals. Few funerals have children unless they are directly related to the one who died.
O Church, we are missing out on one of the most important discipling moments for children.
When you bring your children to a funeral you are teaching them about community in the church. Especially if they don’t know the person, they see a vision of what it means to live life together in the body of Christ. It helps shift their minds toward serving others who are in need, rather than thinking about themselves.
You are also teaching your children about death and what matters most in life. Unless the Lord returns, your children are going to die one day, and those whom they love most are going to die. The liturgy of funerals reaches down into children and helps disciple them on how the gospel relates to death and dying.
In our ambitious culture, we spend enormous amounts of time trying to give our kids success: we drive all over the country for sports games; we push our kids to master school subjects; we join with the hurried world in trying to stuff our children with as many ‘success-factors’ as possible. All the while, we ignore helping them face what everyone will face: death.
Funerals disciple children. Don’t miss out on this most important Christian shaping that your children need. Don’t miss out on what you need too. Go to funerals.