30 January 2010

Funeral Issue

A member of the congregation I serve, left the state this past summer for health reasons. Her doctors told her the climate in Indiana did not suite her medical condition. She left for better weather but found out soon after arriving in her new home that she could not out run her medical conditions. I received a phone call a few days ago from her daughter informing me that she has been placed into hospice care. I further inquired about funeral preparations and the pastoral care during this time. Her daughter told me that she is being visited by the local pastor who is providing the needed pastoral care and comfort at this time. As far as the funeral preparations, there are none. The rough plans as of right now are to have this woman cremated and “placed” with her husband, in yet another state. I was told that because this woman has just moved to New Mexico she has not had anytime to develop any relationships with her neighbors, and the drive back to Hamlet, Indiana would be understandably difficult for a funeral. I was then told there will be a simple “ceremony” at the placing of the urn.
This bothers me on several levels. The first is, I feel helpless as this woman’s Pastor. I feel helpless that I can not be there to care for her during this time. There is the cremation issu,e but that is a different post which has already been discussed. Furthermore there will be no funeral service to proclaim what this woman now has inherited. People will not be given a chance to hear the proclamation of Christ, His salvation, His forgiveness, and what He did for this woman in and through her life. I am not sure how the members and friends of this woman’s home congregation will feel about this missed chance of a funeral service. I then begin to think of ways to remedy this by providing a chance to have our “own” funeral for this woman. Alas I struggle with this idea. I do not want this service to be seen as a “mass for the dead” however, this woman is a member of this congregation. Why can’t we have a funeral mourning the death, and celebrating the life she now has received in Christ’s arms? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks and Blessings,
Rev. Wright


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Kyle:

I think it is entirely appropriate for you to have a memorial service.

On page 110 of the Pastoral care Companion, rubric 7, we read: "The Funeral Service may be used as a memorial service by omitting the placing of a pall and the rubric before the Nunc Dimittis."

I think your instincts are correct, but even more important, I think they are pastoral and fitting for the Lord's kingdom. There is much beyond our control in this fallen world, but we can gather around the Word of God to take comfort in the Gospel even if circumstances prevent the body from being there.

Petersen said...

Dear Pastor Wright,

This has happened to all of us. I cannot imagine the family would object to your congregation holding a memorial service of some sort. She had loved one there who need to mourn for her and you have Words from the Lord that need to be said on her behalf.

Yours in Christ,

Dave Petersen

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Just as a question - where in NM is she - I used to live down there and might know the pastor she is being cared for by.

Rev Rydecki said...

Dear Pr. Wright,

I wholly agree that it would be beneficial and appropriate to have your own memorial service for your member.

The timing of your post is interesting. I'm currently struggling with a situation (in NM) of an older member who died, but whose family (also members) has informed the church that "there will be no memorial service" for the deceased member. They will travel across the country during the summer for a brief commital, when his ashes will be placed at the gravesite he purchased long ago.

My efforts to have a service locally are being met with opposition. It's "against the family's wishes." Is it really pastoral to "respect the family's wishes" NOT to have a service of gospel comfort for those in the congregation who may desire it? Is it worth pressing the point if it "offends" the family to the point of their permanent departure? What is being taught if we have a service under these circumstances? Worse, what is being taught if we fail to have one?

Pr. Paul Rydecki

Anonymous said...

I have done just that thing. I had a member who moved away about a year before he died. I did a memorial service, and sent a CD of it to the widow. It was very much appreciated. If the family objects, that's another story, especially if they are members. I had a very delinquent member who died, and he wanted to funeral. I did not fight it.
If the person were a faithful member, I might have a memorial service, even if the family didn't want to attend.
Families need to understand that it is not their decision for the church to celebrate the life they have in Christ. It is what the church does. They are welcome to attend or not, as they see fit, but they do not dictate what we do.

Larry said...

Rev. Wright,

I don’t have any answers myself but I wrestle with this similar issue, the loss of true funerals, Christian funerals. I am, as far as I know my family history the first confessing Lutheran, I want my funeral to be a true confessional funeral, no fluff, no fake “comfort”, Christ and Him crucified for me. Most on my side were either Baptist or Methodist, my wife mostly Baptist and various strains thereof. And “celebrations” or “simple funerals” are the standard. It kills my soul because its all fluff for all to hear, no reality about death no reality about Christ for us.

I wrestle with it as my own parents age and are approaching their seventies. They loosely belong to a first Baptist church that they never go to. I think my dad in particular over the decades of his life got tired of “moral lessons” preaching. I doubt he ever heard much clear Law or Gospel in his life knowing that realm of denominations personally. He’s been burnt so many years on that stuff one can hardly approach him without him being suspicious. He doesn’t have a problem with Jesus just religion per se. I worry because when he dies what am I to do? Leave up to some false teaching liar preacher from the Baptist church to come in and give nothing? Let it be a “simple ceremony” some cold frivolity designed to make us remember “his life” while the cold body once known as my parent or my wife’s grand parent lays there rotting? Comfort is to come from that, what cheap paltry comfort is that?

No one has died yet, but one cannot but worry and pray and think about these things. We don’t have the family history of a confessional orthodox faith, but a bunch of mingled deception that at length has driven family out of church…long given up on it as “nothing different” on my side of the family and on my wife’s side a deeper descent into that deception.

Is it wrong for a Lutheran pastor to give for a family member of his church that member’s non-Lutheran family member at least a Gospel ceremony if member has control of how the funeral should go? Even if they don’t know the faith condition of that person that died and was not a confessing Lutheran, at least preach the Gospel at the funeral. Maybe I’m thinking minimalistic on this but at least that message would be better than the other options.



Pastor Peters said...

I did a piece on my blog about how the dead are being banished from their own funerals... it seems always to be a case of too much money, too far to drive, or too few people that justifies the growing practice of no funeral and a possible memorial service later... I am reminded of the First Things piece by Gil Meilander who wrote that he wanted to be a burden to his children... in life and in death... because such is the nature of love that we bear one another's burdens...

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Of course, what you could do is just celebrate this member's "Saint's Day" a calendar year later. . .

Dcs. Emily Carder said...

A while back the congregation was "shut out" of the funeral service for one of their own by her family. I don't know if those are the appropriate words. I'm certain we could attend, but Pr. Sawyer was not asked to officiate. She was one of "ours," though. She was a member here. We remembered her in the prayers of the church. She was a part of us. When she died we were missing her, and expected to be a part of it. So to mot have the funeral here was... well, odd.

Pr. Sawyer had a Requiem Mass in her name. It was a celebration of Christ's life in her, and her life that will be in His in the Resurrection. If he doesn't still have a copy of it, I do. Actually, I'm sure he has a copy of it, but it might be on another computer that went belly up or some such thing. So if he can't fish it our quickly for you and you'd like it, I can fetch it for you.

Brad said...

Dear Larry,

My heart goes out to you. God bless you, and God help you. With his lies, Satan has caused such grief. Though easy for me to say, I wouldn't worry so about who does your parent's funerals. Keep putting Christ into their ears. When the end comes, trust your heavenly Father's promise that His Word will not return to Him empty and void, but will accomplish the purpose for which He has sent it. Attend their funerals, and then, with a clear conscience, be a good witness to the truth where and when you can. You, as your father and mother, have a heavenly Father. And He will use His own Word, on your precious lips, to do His thing.

Fwiw, a word of caution about conducting funerals for those who have absented themselves from the means of grace.

Remember, by faith Lutherans understand "fides directa," not "fides reflexa." That someone has-albeit, unwittingly—contented themselves over their “faith condition” apart from the means of grace is a grave error. Our ground of confidence before God is never Christ in us, but Christ for us. Hence, one's “faith condition” is neither here nor there. One's relation to the Christ as He is bestowed on us in the means of grace is.

What would we say at a funeral for one who did not confess, had no joy in, did not live from the Christ Who is placed on us in Baptism? What would we say at a funeral for one who did not trust, or take seriously, the gospel promise: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him at the last day”? What would we say at a funeral for one who contented themselves with the notion that God has attached His saving promises to something inside of us—like our faith, our prayers, our works, our decisions, our love for God—rather than to the external Word, to water, to bread and wine? A pastoral word admonishing and encouraging folks toward the Divine Service can, I think, happen at the house of the bereaved, next to the casket in the parlor, or at the cemetery. A pastoral word admonishing and encouraging loved ones in that direction before they perish in such a condition, though difficult, can also be very loving and faithful.

To conduct a funeral service, however, in such circumstances would be wrong. Actions really do speak louder than words. Someone, somewhere, will get the impression it's okay to absent one's self from the means of grace—and no real harm will come of it. Someone, somewhere, will draw the conclusion that the sum and substance of the gospel is a “faith condition” sort of thing. Someone, somewhere, no matter what we say, will get the idea that we can have absolute confidence about our eternal destiny by looking at ourselves—rather than, or apart from, the means of grace. That's not Lutheran, Biblical, or gospel. That makes it something none of us would want to be part of.

By the way, I speak from my own sad experience. I've done funerals in such situations, only to regret it. Either I've watered down what needed to be said so that a false hope was given, or I've said what needed saying and only made the grieving mad. Nothing good can come of it. I should have listened to the Lutheran Confessions, which warn us not to do such things. I'll say a prayer for you, and hope that I've said something that helps.

Larry said...

Dear Pastor Brad,

It does and was very helpful and kind. I appreciate, MUCH, your reply.

I struggle with this deeply because it is personal, my family as would anyone. I think were I struggle the most is I see this personally and broadly in the laity. Perhaps I struggle were no clear answer is. On the one hand I see the laity who leave such “churches” (being blunt; the heterodox/false churches). Where they driven away from Christ and the Gospel or the falseness within that church? I don’t know and this gets into the impossible of “trying to read hearts and minds”. Yet, on the other hand there are the pastors and teachers of such (and to be blunt again, false teachers, even the best of them and not just Rick Warrens of their ilk, I mean the finest of the Calvinist if you will). I see that such pastors and teachers are entertained by some Lutheran pastors and theologians as if there is commonality. In the general sense, not particular, the faceless laity at the general level are communicated as “questionably Christian upon death”, yet these false (heterodoxy) teachers, the best of them, are communicated as “Christian I suppose upon death”. One might reply, “Yes but some of these heterodox teachers have “some gospel”. Do they, can one be consistent there and have a differing view on the sacraments (I’m asking)? Why not the laity? Perhaps they cannot weave a theological treatise the way say Calvin or a Spurgeon might, but perhaps they trust in Christ alone but cannot communicate it, perhaps what they fled from was false religion in a false church (heterodoxy) and simply had nor knew of no where else to go, the eunuch before Thomas arrived? I look at it this way and tell my wife constantly this, “If for some reason our present church disappeared and ALL we had were heterodoxy all around us, DO NOT EVER GO TO THEIR CHURCHES! Now would I be “fallen away” or holding to the true confession? The later I think, but then again I’ve been exposed to it. Yet, what might or might not be the difference in say one like myself so exposed to orthodoxy and confess it truly that would never step into their doors and another laity who never had such exposure do to lack thereof for whatever reason who walked away years ago from similar heterodoxy (they just don’t think in such categories). To put it another way, a few years ago when I was under the terror of believers baptism and thought I was reprobate nearing suicide just to get some relief, what if I walked away from those churches then because “I couldn’t keep up” with what they taught as truth? Would I have walked away from Christ, or be really fleeing the devil’s church, despairing in Christ because the noise of the devil’s doctrines were so loud I lost Christ though I really yearned for Him. I.e. I lost the false Christ the devil preaches and yearned for the Christ that forgives sins I just couldn’t find him because false teachers hid Him and I would despair that THAT Christ may not be real (e.g. Luther’s early struggles before the Tower).

I realize these are tough questions and I appreciate any thoughts, truly, I won’t be offended.

Yours truly,


Brad said...

Dear Larry,

I would hope never to offend you for anything you just said. Bravo, brother! Through the angst in your soul a genuine strength and truth shines forth.

I'm pretty sure it was C.F.W. Walther who said the day will come when the only orthodox churches and pulpits will be the homes and tables of faithful believers. I hear a lot of Walther in what you're saying.

There is, again, comfort in God's promise that His Word will not return to Him void. We know, then, the church exists wherever His Word is read and preached. Even though mingled with lies, His Word is still there in a heterodox community. It is still read. Still studied. Still prayed. Still sung. And so forth. Thank God. For that means (as in the case of you and/or your parents) there are those who, despite the false teachings they hear, nevertheless place their faith outside themselves (their own prayers/works/decisions/feelings/changes/ whatever..) and in the external promise of the Gospel: that God forgives and loves and calls us His own because of Jesus, and Jesus only.

No, not you, nor anyone else, has left Jesus because--despairing over the utterly impossible demands of false teaching--they walked away from a heterodox church. In fact, just the opposite! I'd say you were standing up for Jesus by doing that. But now, as you have done, those who have left heterodox churches should take the next step and join an orthodox church. No Christian should forsake doing that.

It probably doesn't help much that we think, and talk, in terms of Christianity today, rather than (as in the Bible) the church. However, it is helpful to recognize there are people who "have given up" on going to church not because they enjoy sinning against God's Word, but because of hurt, or pain, or confusion, or just plain ignorance.

What to do with them? For starters, have compassion on them. Our heavenly Father certainly has--by attaching His promises not to their hearts or lives, but to His Word. That's salvation to all who have ears! When and where you can--keep putting that Word into their ears. Pray for them. Allow yourself to keep feeling the angst and the hurt. That's okay. Above everything, remember that God is still in complete control of His church. And Christ is still it's head. It doesn't always look or feel that way, but "blind unbelief is sure to err." God is not startled at all, or alarmed, by what He sees going on. Find some strength and courage in that.

Larry, you are spot on. Where there is disagreement over the doctrine of Holy Baptism, there is disagreement over the doctrine of the gospel. There are no 2 ways about it. But please take comfort in knowing that your calling from God is not to fix those who teach differently than the apostles. Your calling from God is--as you are doing--to avoid them. Want to really frustrate the devil, then? Stop fretting over matters you can't possibly change or control, put your energies and time behind a faithful pulpit and church, and let God deal with those who teach contrary to the doctrine of His Word.

And then move to New Orleans and join Mt. Olive.

And then go have a beer with the pastor there. I hear he's not as bad as most think he is.

Peace, brother.