Faith and funerals
Funerals are big business in South Africa. For those watching morning or evening television, adverts for funeral policies are everywhere. However, this is not just a South African phenomenon. Humans have always made a big fuss about how or where they bury their dead.
In ancient Egypt, the kings built themselves huge tombs called pyramids. These took years to build, and are one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Abraham, the patriarch of the people of Israel, bought a piece of land as a family burial place. Many African families I know, including my own, have their family burial places. Jesus was buried in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, a rich Jewish leader at that time.
Funerals can be a great statement of faith for Christians. When Abraham bought the Cave of Machpelah as a burial place for his family, he was demonstrating his faith in the fact that God was going to give that land to his descendants. He was putting his money where his faith was. The people he bought the land from did not know that Abraham and his descendants intended to own the whole land eventually, as God promised them. They would probably not have sold it to him if they did.
Birth and Death are two of the most defining moments of human life. Death is more so than birth. Many people believe that death is the end for humans. They believe life is meaningless, and that there is no life after death. Sadly, many Christians share the same belief, at least in practice. They may believe there is life after death but their life practices do not show that. Paul declared that if Christians don’t believe there is life after death, they are to be pitied more than all people.
Slave traders were often cruel, “And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT).
The Christian martyrs are men and women who stared death in the face and smiled at it. They died with a smile because they knew that just as Christ was raised from the dead, they too will be raised. Because of his faith, Paul was not afraid of death. He said he would rather be away from the body and be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Accept Jesus or else...
Pastors preach at funerals every week. However, more often than not, their message is to scare people into accepting Jesus. Most people do not not go to church. The only sermon they will ever hear is at a funeral. Sadly though, our message is often bad news instead of good news. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. It is the message that God no longer counts people’s sins against them. (2 Corinthians 5:19).
It is the message that we should no longer be afraid of death. Jesus came to free us from the fear of death. “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
In Jesus, who was raised from the dead, death no longer has any power. “...Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).
If you visit a cemetery, you will see many tombstones with inscriptions. Often the inscription gives the name of the deceased, when the person was born, when they died, and when they were buried. With those kinds of inscriptions, it appears death is the end of life. Once you are buried, it’s over. At least that’s what the tombstones seem to suggest. I think that Christians should declare their faith in the resurrection on their tombstones. Instead of just saying the person was born, lived, died and was buried on a particular date, our tombstones should reflect our faith. Perhaps they should have an inscription: “ Born (date), Died (date), Buried (date), Resurrection Coming!
Not A Dead End!
As Christians we believe that we already share in Jesus’ resurrection. It is a matter of time before we are bodily raised from the dead or changed into new bodies at Jesus’ coming. Here is how Paul puts it:
“...you have been raised with Christ, ...and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1, 3-4)
Christian deaths and funerals should be a testimony to the coming resurrection. They should not be a dead end (excuse the pun). Jesus’ death and burial was a testimony of His resurrection. The tomb was sealed with a heavy stone to make sure the body could not be stolen. Guards were posted at the tomb to guard it in case His disciples stole the body and claimed He was raised.
How- ever, despite that, Jesus was raised from the dead and was seen by hundreds of people who became witnesses of His resurrection. Because of the actions taken to secure Jesus’ tomb, His resurrection is now attested to by the empty tomb, which still stands outside Jerusalem.
Paul says we should not grieve over death like people who have no hope in the resurrection. Death is like sleep. “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Let your funeral, or that of your loved ones, be a testimony of your faith, or their faith. Let the eulogies be a testimony of the faith you profess. Let the people at your funeral say: “This man/woman truly was a man/woman of God!” To God be the glory.