The Essence of a Protestant Funeral
BY: Reverend Campbell Gillon
"A Memorial Service celebrating the life of..." Such words may begin the printed program. The content of the service provides the context in which the life is celebrated. The opening words of the Call to Worship set death in true Christian perspective: "The Eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms." "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted."
The comfort of which Jesus speaks is a strengthening within. 'Fortis' the Latin root of the English word means 'brave, strong.' Divine comfort comes not from inward focusing on feelings which are shifting sand, but on an outward looking to the strength of the unchanging Eternal, the Rock from which our life line comes. The opening hymn points this direction, stressing the purpose of our gathering: worship of the God without whom we are helpless and hopeless in the face of death:
Our Hope for years to come..."
Whatever words are used, humility before God is the only attitude that finds divine strength. Faith is humility's hand outstretched to grasp the life line. And the life line is there. Its many strands are in God's revelation in the experience of others who faced life and death as do we, and supremely in Jesus the Christ whose uniqueness is set forth in the Scriptures. So we read: "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want...yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me..." And from the Psalmist to Paul: "For we know that God who raised the Lord Jesus to life will with Jesus raise us also." "For I am persuaded that...nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." To Jesus' own promise, "I go to prepare a place for you...That where I am, there you may be also...I am the Way...Peace I leave with you...Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
It is the living Spirit of Christ present in the worship that gives all such words their power to hold and support the trusting mourner. And they do. What we believe is that mortality is transcended in Christ. As he declared: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in Me though dead, yet shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die." The context is God. The comfort is in God's Word and that Word made flesh in Christ. The comfort is in the communion of the Spirit between the sorrowing and a Savior who does not allow death the final word.