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Worshiping Jesus at the Coffin

by Pastor Chris Kumpula

Consistent worship of Jesus in the midst of life's greatest joys is a blessing you wouldn't want to miss. Yet worship is about meeting the need of sinners who face failure, loss, and death. So how do we worship Jesus when the life of a loved one has come to an earthly end? How do we worship Jesus at the coffin?

A Christian Funeral is a Worship Service

A funeral, sometimes referred to as a "memorial service" or "celebration of life," is a Christian worship service focused on the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The focus is on his death and the new life won in the cross. The Scripture, songs, and elements of this worship service are meant to point to Christ and keep Him as the hero.

Surely there are individual preferences that reflect personality and lifestyle, but these details must never obscure the hope of Jesus. Pastors are called by God to proclaim God's Word, apply it individually to believers, and lead the worshipping congregation faithfully (and they make a rather serious vow to do so faithfully). Pastors are more than celebrants, they are there to lead people to the saving grace of Jesus in the wake of death. Here are three ways Christian funeral services accomplish this:

1. Funerals Reflect Grief and Joy in Worship

Funeral services confront the reality of death and loss in one of the realest ways. Families gather to reflect on their loved one in both grief and joy; they grieve their dearly departed but also celebrate the blessing of their life and memory. Christian funerals reflect grieving the loss as well as rejoicing in the hope of Christ.

Sadness and joy are reflected in the Scripture readings, eulogies, and songs of the service. The content of the music of the service always points to Jesus, and it points to Him in somber pleas for comfort as well as glorious praise for the gift of salvation. Those that are gathered are meant to participate as worshippers like any other worship service, hearing Scripture, responding in song, and praying together as a family of God. Funerals meet grief with hope.

2. Funerals Reflect the Corporate Worship of the Church

The person in focus at a funeral may be the deceased, but the service is for those who are left behind, and it better be about Jesus. It's amazing how often people plan their own funeral service with great detail when they're the only one who can count on being absent from the service! Funerals are individual in their reflection on a particular individual, and they certainly recognize the individual Savior, but they serve a corporate purpose in ministering to gathered grievers. Funerals direct those left behind to the foot of the cross and doorway of the open tomb.

Funerals show that communities grieve, whether it be the family, the town, the work colleagues, etc. One will always by grieved by fellow Christian believers as much as they will share in rejoicing that this world is not our home. These funerals are times of worship that remind Christians that we are called to be part of a heavenly family reflected in the local congregation. And so we hold up Jesus together when we worship the Lord of Life in the wake of death.

3. Funerals are Where We Worship Jesus in Tragedy

Funerals absorb much spiritual and emotional darkness when someone is killed in tragic circumstances. These funerals confront the shock of a world gone wrong. People succumb to sudden illness, experience a terrible accident, or fall victims to the violence of others. These funerals especially recognize that life and the world is not as it should be. Funerals answer questions about where God is in the sickness, in the randomness, and in the injustice of our world. They point to the cross in times of horrible shock, suffering, and grief, ultimately pointing to the hope of the day of a new heaven and earth put aright (Revelation 21). We answer the cry "something is wrong" with, "You're right; thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Funerals reflect the grim reality that not all who die pass into the glory of Christ. There is no greater tragedy for a believer than to see one who has died in faithlessness and denial of Jesus. Maybe they were always hard and jaded toward the things of God. Maybe theirs was the beginning of faith plucked away by neglect of Scripture. Or maybe they wandered with faith grown cold in unrepentant sin from God's fold. It happens. So in the heaviness of such worship services we “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.” (Isaiah 55:6) Our worship in the funeral service underlines the urgent mission of the church to profess Christ, His gift of salvation, and the promise of eternal life.

On the way to Zion,

Pastor Chris


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