It is probably true that you will be asked to be a part of a memorial service or funeral at some time in your life. There are specific things which I have observed from pastors who are successfully able to capture the essence of the person and still glorify Christ in a funeral sermon or eulogy. Here are some of those things which you may find helpful.
First, find a hook. This is something about the person that seems to embody their personality or mission in life. It may be a phrase, a sentence or an observation. Most often this should come from the family. In trying to find a hook for one man that I had never met, every person I spoke to said, “He was a good man.” I kept trying to find something else about this man until I realized: This was a truly good man and that was what family wanted to said about him.
Interview as many members of the family as possible to be able to grasp what is meaningful to them. Ask probing questions. What is the thing you remember most about Phil? What did he do during his free time? Tell me a little bit about his life. When did he become a Christian?
Everyone has some humor in his or her life. Try to find it and use it.
The deepest, most moving memories are best wrapped with a glimmer of humor, if possible.
Don’t be afraid to share deeply personal things that the family has given you permission to share. This is a time for them to hear their words echoing back to them in a positive message of hope.
Use a Thesaurus in finding different words to express what you want to say. Don’t limit yourself or your imagination in your sentence structure or your vocabulary.
- Use Scriptures to say the things you desire to say about the resurrection. Then don’t forget to speak about the hope of the resurrection of Christ in each sermon or eulogy. That, after all, is why we have sermons at funerals.
- Keep it short. Limit yourself to a maximum of 10 minutes of sermon. I also try to limit the Scripture readings to five to 10 minutes. Intersperse the Scriptures throughout the service. Find my favorite Scriptures here.
Remember, above all, you are speaking the heart of the family and the heart of Christ. When the two are in harmony, it’s a wonderful union. When they are divergent, God will help you to find ways to honor both.
If you are sharing with a family of a mentally challenged person who has died, this is especially important to remember and acknowledge their grief. God wants to touch this family in a real way and you can be His instrument.
Here is a eulogy that hopefully will help you to see how these steps can be put together.
The Apostle Paul writes in the Holy Scriptures that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Proverbs reminds us that a merry heart is as good as any medicine. On December 19, 1972, God gave to us an ambassador of laugher and giggles when Leslie Ann was born to Priscilla.
Raised in a strong Catholic family, faith and commitment to the Lord were the backbone of her existence. As a natural outgrowth of that love for the Lord, her first communion was a joyous time shared with her mother, grandparents, her Uncle Jack, his two children and the community of believers.
Later, as Leslie matured into adulthood, reaching out became an anchor of her commitment to the Lord as she endeavored to share her faith. Each Christmas at Special Gathering, we collect gifts for the Haitian children. Leslie was the first one to bring her gifts. But she didn’t stop there. Sunday after Sunday, she would bring toys and school supplies for the young children who have so little.
Of course, Leslie understood the value of money. The best presents she received were always money or gift cards. No birthday was complete without a card filled with big bucks. Yet, she never totally comprehended the complete concept. After obtaining her first job came the wondrous first paycheck. Excited by this new found wealth, Leslie wanted to put it in the bank as the first installment toward buying a new Corvette. Somehow the fact that it was only $4 escaped this young financier.
Leslie had a knack for remembering names and addresses. She remembered the full name of everyone she met. But phone numbers were her specialty. She spent hours on the phone with her various boyfriends. Mark from New Jersey was her first real boyfriend. For more than ten years, they conversed every evening until it was time for them to go to bed. Last July, when Leslie and her mother went back to Jersey, Mark begged them to come back in the spring because he needed a date to the prom. “You know my girl’s down there with you,” Mark told Priscilla pensively.
Though she seldom complained, at times her disability would hinder her from doing the fun activities that the other family members enjoyed. One day, Elaine, her step-sister-in-law, could no longer take her mournful expression as the other young adults scooted around on jet skis.
“I’ll take you,” Elaine volunteered. Leslie was in her mid-twenties but not too old to giggle. Unfortunately, in her enthusiasm, Leslie leaned too far and tipped over the jet ski. In an effort to save herself, Leslie quickly grasped the closest thing to her–which was Elaine’s throat.
Her mother was following her in a boat. She and the driver of the boat scooped Leslie up from the water within a few seconds. And Elaine is still thankful.
Leslie never liked being left behind. And she didn’t like losing when she played games. After her great nephew, Colin, was born, she would spend hours coloring and playing games with him. He was her little buddy. But her competitive nature didn’t die easily and she didn’t enjoy losing, even to him.
Vincent, Colin’s dad and her cousin, was two years younger than she. He, naturally, was her big buddy. As children the cousins etched together a life-long bond. They spent hours building towers with blocks. After the construction was felled, they would head for the hallway and a ball game. For Leslie, the fun with Vincent was never in the game or the competition but in the giggling.
About ten years ago, after moving from Jersey, Leslie began attending Special Gathering. Later, she joined the choir. Her commitment to the choir was remarkable and we came to lean heavily on her strong–though never pitch-perfect–voice.
Every Saturday evening, she’d ask her mom, “Do I need to wear my choir uniform to Special Gathering?” Her mom would explain that the choir wasn’t singing at another church, only practicing. “Are you sure?” Leslie would enquire suspiciously.
One of Leslie’s favorite songs was a selection from our choir. Often before practice, we would sing it as our prayer.
Change my heart, Oh, God.
Make it ever true
Change my heart, Oh, God,
May I be like you.
You are the potter, I am the clay
Mold me and make me.
This is what I pray.
Change my heart, Oh, God.
Make it ever true.
Change my heart, Oh, God.
May I be like you
As Leslie slipped into eternity last Saturday, I believe she met the Lord giggling. You see, her disability and pains are gone. She isn‘t hurting or afraid anymore. (show the crystal bowl and the paper cup)
On the Friday evening that Leslie was admitted to the hospital, she was in agonizing pain. Her stomach had ripped and her lungs were full of pneumonia. She would code three times before they could get her into surgery. Fighting frantically to save her life, the technician began taking X-rays. Explaining to her what they were doing, the tech said, “We are going to hold up this piece of metal and take your picture.”
Leslie weakly nodded her understanding. As the technician put up the metal sheet to her chest, ready to click the X-ray, Leslie said, “Cheese” and grinned for the picture. With each X-ray she said, “Cheese” and smiled. As we remember Christ’s ambassador of giggles, we cannot weep for her, though we will often shed tears for ourselves. She would demand that we gratefully grin and say, “Cheese.”