At least, that’s how many I can account for. There are probably three or four that evaded my Excel spreadsheet. The first was on June 13th, 2005, during my first year as a pastor. The most recent was August 19th, 2016. It was my fourth funeral in less than a month.
The names include church members, family, and strangers. I shared the occasional service, but mainly it was just me.
I don’t know if that number of funerals in eleven years is normal, low, or high. I’ve never asked another pastor. But, what I do know is that I’ve learned a lot about what’s important when the time comes to say goodbye to a loved one.
First, family is vital. If a family is close, then they can endure grief together. Remaining spouses need the comfort of children and grandchildren. Siblings need shared memories and experiences. Grandchildren need assurances about the nature of life and death.
While each funeral home differs, normally there is a final viewing for the family before the service. I stand near the head of the casket out of respect for the deceased and to be available to the family. In this intimate moment, families are at their most vulnerable. They gather strength from one another. A loving family is gift from the Lord.
Second, church is essential. Many times during these forty four funerals and visitations, people have asked me, “Brother John, I don’t know how someone gets through this who doesn’t have a church family.” I always agree with them. I don’t know how they do it either.
In the two churches I’ve been privileged to pastor, I’ve seen God’s people step up to care for the grieving. Food is brought. Visits are made. Time is given. Without these things, families are left to go through loss unaccompanied. God didn’t design us to grieve alone. We bear one another’s burdens.
Third, Heaven is crucial. Depending on circumstances, Heaven may offer relief or reassurance. Families, though hurting, find relief in the healing that Heaven provides. In tragic cases, the reassurance that the loved one is with the Lord may be the only solace in the early days of loss.
I don’t know how many more funerals God will allow me to preach. Preachers never truly retire, so I suspect I’ll be conducting services for at least another 40 years. But, I believe that these things I’ve written about will always be true, because they come from God. He created the family. He loves the church. He promises Heaven to those who call on His name. Fortunately, He uses these truths when we need them the most.