Trinitarian Ministry to Body, Mind, and Soul

A series of articles originally written by Jonathan Stepp, edited by Michael Morrison.

9. Funerals

Funerals, like weddings, are not commanded in Scripture and not described in any detail. They are found in all cultures and religions. Psychologists tell us that they help the grieving process. Sociologically, they provide occasions to discuss the meaning of life, ethics, gratitude, and hope for an afterlife. Due to the common cultural expectations for a funeral or memorial service, we can use the opportunity to provide a distinctly Christian, Trinitarian perspective on death and life. It is a time that good news is needed, and people are receptive to it.

What is death in the light of who Jesus is?

Perhaps the most important statement we can make about death in the light of Jesus is that death is not a property of the Triune life. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternal, without beginning or end, and God does not die.

In our other studies we have looked at aspects of ministry that have their origin in the nature of God himself as the Triune Relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit. When we come to think about death and funerals, however, we are faced with a human experience that is entirely of our making. We did not create baptism, communion, evangelism, worship, or any of the other good and beautiful experiences that flow from the Trinity. The one experience that we can take credit for – death – is a tragic and traumatic experience. This tells us what the nature of our fallenness in Adam is. There is nothing good that comes from us. Whatever good there is in the universe is the result of the Trinity sharing his life with the creation.

Even though death is not a property of the Triune life, it is also not an experience that is alien to the Persons of God. To understand this, we are called to think of Jesus’ vicarious humanity. Just as the Son of God shares with us the properties of the Triune life by living with us as the man Jesus, so also the Son shares with the Father and the Spirit the properties of human existence by living with them as God. Unfortunately, the properties of human existence are negative and disastrous. In Jesus, God shares with humanity in our negative and disastrous experiences from the fall.

Therefore, we can say that – in Jesus – God has tasted death, experienced what it is. As Jesus shares his knowledge of death with the Father and the Spirit, we can know with confidence that our loving Father in heaven knows what death feels like. True, the Father has not become flesh and lived among us and he has not died in the flesh the way the Son has. However, the Father and the Son share all things – in and through the Spirit – and therefore the Persons of God are perfectly informed about human existence. Not just in knowledge of facts, but in an experiential way. Jesus shares the experience of what it feels like to be human with his Father and their Spirit. In the same way that we experience the divine life vicariously through Jesus, so also the Father and the Spirit experience human life vicariously through Jesus.

Even though God is eternal, our Father has still experienced death. He is not asking us to trust him in the midst of an experience he has never experienced. We who are ministering are the ones who do not know what death feels like. Whenever we are facing death and trying to deal with its negative consequences, we can know that the Father who loves us, Jesus in whom we live, and the Spirit who has been poured out on us, are the ones who know and understand, far better than we do, what death is.

This reality – that God has experienced death and we have not – is vital to understanding what death is in the light of Jesus. Jesus has been there and done that, and he can tell us what death actually is, and his word carries more epistemological authority than our experience does. Death is what Jesus tells us it is, not what we observe with our own eyes or experience in our own minds, bodies, or souls. To use an analogy, if a friend of yours travelled to China – and you had never been – you would accept your friend’s account of what China is like.

We have to trust Jesus in the face of death. If we believe that Jesus is the union of the Trinity with humanity, and if we believe that Jesus has died and been resurrected, and if we believe that he is now alive at the Father’s right hand, then we have to conclude that Jesus knows what death is and can share his knowledge with us. To trust Jesus is to believe that he has travelled ahead of us into death, and that what he tells us about death is true and trustworthy.

What does Jesus tell us about death? He tells us that death is not the end of life. Rather, it is the narrow doorway between this life and the fullness of life in the resurrection of Jesus (John 11:25). As Jesus died and was resurrected, so also the human race will die and be resurrected (2 Cor. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22). Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and Jesus shares his existence with all humanity. To be human is to be destined to die in Christ and then be resurrected in Christ and live forever.

This definition contradicts everything we can observe with our five senses. We have not seen any of our loved ones resurrected. We have not experienced eternal life in Jesus as he describes it to us. This lack of empirical evidence can easily lead human beings to doubt what Jesus says to us about death. This is where funerals enter into human experience. Funerals are about people coming together to comfort one another and to remember the one who has died. But even more than that, funerals are about letting Jesus serve us with his knowledge of what death is so that we can trust him even in the midst of the trauma we are experiencing.

Before we talk about how to perform funerals, let’s pause to offer a Trinitarian, Christ-centered definition of death:

Death comes to us through the fallenness of Adam and has been reversed in the resurrection of Jesus to become the means by which the Holy Spirit brings us from this life into the eternal life prepared for us by the Father.

How do we practice the ministry of performing funerals?

Since death is the means by which the Spirit shares with us the resurrection of Jesus and brings us into eternal life with the Father, the ministry of conducting funerals must be focused on who Jesus is and what his death and resurrection means for humanity and our understanding of death.

We have all experienced funerals that are so focused on the person who has died, and death itself, that the good news of who Jesus is and how he shares his resurrection with humanity is lost or minimized. There are several ways this can happen.

Sometimes the people involved, including the person conducting the funeral, are so vague and unsure about their knowledge of Jesus that they fail to see the funeral as anything more than a memorial of the person’s life. The terminology we use sometimes highlights this distinction. We could speak of a Christian funeral as a Christ-centered service to celebrate the life of someone who has died, and refer to a memorial service as an event to celebrate the deceased’s life. We often see this with public memorials for celebrities and political leaders. Because these occasions involve people from many different faiths – and from no faith – and because they take place in a public forum (e.g., on television), where people from many different faiths will be observing, they usually end up finding the lowest common denominator. Usually this turns out to be expressed as “look how wonderful he was” and “he’s never really gone as long as he lives on in our hearts.”

There is nothing inherently wrong with such memorials. In the midst of them Jesus is still sharing his Spirit with those who are mourning and he serves them with his faith, even when they do not know that this is happening. The only reason that any human being – Christian, atheist, or otherwise – can ever accept the death of a loved one and move ahead in life is because Jesus is sharing his faith and knowledge of eternal life with humanity.

However, from a Christ-centered standpoint, we should understand that this sort of “memorial” service is not a Christian funeral. A Christian funeral involves a clear proclamation of the good news about how Jesus shares his faith and his resurrection with humanity. Jesus is going to do this ministry of sharing himself with people whether we talk about it or not. The life for which the Father created us involves knowing the Father as he is revealed in Jesus. We have not yet grown up to be the children of the Father that we were created to be until we have seen and understood how the Father has reversed death in Jesus. Our liberation from the fear of death is found only in the proclamation of the one who has been victorious over death.

Another way in which a funeral can fail to focus on the good news of Jesus is that the emphasis is not on Jesus and his resurrection, but on humanity and humanity’s death. For example, the pastor talks about Jesus but does not proclaim the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. In some funerals, the gist of his message is this: “This person died without accepting Jesus and if you don’t accept Jesus you’re going to end up like him.” Death then becomes a warning from God about what happens to sinners.

Such pastors probably feel that they have done their duty in preaching the gospel. However, nothing in the message was particularly encouraging – and since the word gospel means “good news,” the message could not be called the gospel. Rather, it was the bad news of how bad we are as human beings and how bad death is. When you define death solely in terms of who Adam is, and who human beings are in Adam, then you have no good news to share with people. From this perspective, death is something that we have to try to deal with ourselves. Medical science says, “we’ll deal with it by trying to find a way to keep people alive longer and maybe extend life spans to hundreds of years.” The bad news of religion says, “we’ll deal with it by explaining what you have to do – obey God, accept Christ, have faith, etc. – in order to rescue yourself from death.”

In contrast to such human-centered views of death, a Christ-centered view of death – and thus a Christian funeral – focuses on who Jesus is and what he has done to deal with death and fix the human dilemma of dying. What has Christ done? He has taken on our dying human nature and died our death for us, taking us all down with him in his death and grave. In doing this, he has conquered death and been victorious over the grave. He then took our human nature up with him in his resurrection, so that we have been raised up with him, and he has taken our human nature into heaven so that we are seated with him in heavenly realms at the Father’s right hand.

This is the good news we are called to proclaim at a Christian funeral. At its most basic level, it has nothing to do with what we have done. By virtue of what a human being is – a descendant of Adam redeemed in Christ – there is no sense in which the hope that our Father gives us through his Spirit has anything to do with what we have done.

This reality of the good news about Jesus helps us see the difference between a funeral for a believer and a nonbeliever. Both funerals should revolve around the clear proclamation of how the deceased is a loved child of the Father in Christ and how Christ shares with each person his eternal life and resurrection.

a)     In the case of the believer, we can celebrate how the person believed this, and encourage others to follow this example and to find comfort and assurance in also believing this truth about themselves.

b)    In the case of the nonbeliever, we can emphasize how much our Father loved the person, without necessarily having to address the question of what the deceased believed.

The purpose of a funeral is not to try to lead the people present in an exercise of trying to figure out the deceased’s eternal destiny, or precisely when the person enters that destiny – even if we think their eternal destiny is good because the person was a good, faithful Christian. The purpose of a funeral is to comfort those who are mourning with the good news of the Father who has always loved all of us and who has decided to keep all of us with him forever by including all of us in the resurrection and eternal life of his Son Jesus Christ.

Based on this, we can define the practice of the ministry of funerals:

A funeral is our participation in the ministry of the Holy Spirit of Jesus to reassure those grieving in the face of death that we are all included by our loving Father in the resurrection and eternal life of Jesus.

As a final note on how we conduct funerals, we might think briefly about the issue of judgment. However we understand issues about the intermediate state – between death and resurrection – we know that the next moment of consciousness for people who have died will be with Jesus. Whether they believed in Jesus or not, trusted him or did not, they will be with him. And who is he? He is the one in whom they were created and in whom they live and move and have their being. He is not a prosecutor or a political ruler. He is their brother. How does a good, loving brother judge his siblings? He says, “My beloved siblings, let go of the lies the enemy has told you and believe that I’m really your brother and my Father is really your Daddy that loves you.”

What about the punishment that we deserve? It has already been taken care of in the vicarious humanity of Jesus.

Whether we speak directly about the issues of judgment at a funeral is a decision that you have to make as the Spirit leads you. That may depend on the beliefs of the deceased and of the family. Whether or not we address this matter, everything we say at a funeral should be said in the light of the Triune life that is being shared with humanity in Jesus. We must regard everyone as Jesus’ sibling and as a child of the Father. We are there to celebrate their life – not just the one that has ended, but also the one that shall never end – and address their death in the light of this reality about who they are in Jesus.

How do we feed Jesus’ sheep in body, mind, and soul through funerals?

Body: In our society, the primary ministry to the body in a funeral is taken care of by professional funeral directors. There are profound reasons, beyond hygiene, that humans do not leave their dead where they fall, the way animals do. We wash and prepare the body. We dress the body in good clothes and embalm it with chemicals designed to delay the initial stages of decay and the odors that come with it. [1] We put it in a special box, bury it in a special location, and use a special marker for posterity. For some people, this is a carry-over from paganism and superstition. For some, it is a denial of death. For others, it is a sign of respect and a desire to remember the person at their best.

Just because we are not directly involved in ministering to the body of the deceased (and most of the audience is unaware of the details) does not mean that it is without significance. It is part of the process of how the surviving family and friends deal with grief.

Treatment of the dead body can also be a statement about the importance and value of the body. If, as people sometimes say, the body is just a “shell” or a “husk” from which the soul has now flown, then we would treat it like a husk, and just throw it in a dumpster. But we do not. We treat the body with reverence and care, not like a useless and discarded container. Why? Because the Spirit is sharing with us Jesus’ knowledge of the body’s destiny: our bodies have been created to exist forever in the resurrection of Jesus’ body. Even when we choose cremation, we still expect and desire that the body will be treated respectfully, and we look with hope to the day of its resurrection. This is because, regardless of what our own theologies may say to us, the Spirit is sharing with our souls a true knowledge of what the Father created our bodies to be.

In addition to the ministry to the body of the deceased, there is also a ministry to the bodies of those who are grieving. People need us to hug them, shake their hands, and look them in the eye. Carrying a small pack of tissues to share with those who need one can be a way to express concern and love towards others. The members of our congregation can prepare food and deliver it to help take the burden of cooking off of those who are in grief. [2]

As the minister, you usually will follow the lead and directions of the funeral directors in the physical arrangements of the ceremonies. Even within different regions of the United States, funeral customs can vary. Individual funeral homes may have their own way of doing things. The funeral directors are professionals at walking people through these actions, and have lots of experience, so let them lead the way. Your job is to focus on bringing the gospel by actions, words, and prayer.

Usually there are three key ministry events in connection with a funeral.

  1. The first is at the time of death. As soon as you learn of the death, contact the family and offer to visit and pray with them. Most people will want you to come, but every situation is different, so there may be reasons to not go immediately. If you are in doubt, simply ask what you can do that would be helpful. Check with the family at this point to see what level of involvement they would like from you in planning the funeral. Often they cannot think clearly and they would appreciate some guidance. Often they just want to talk.
  2. The second event is the visitation, usually the night before the funeral and/or in the hours before the funeral begins. Unless there are unusual circumstances, you should be present at this event: meet family and friends that you do not know, confirm any details about the time and location of the service, and pray with the family.
  3. Finally, there is the funeral itself. The funeral director will walk you through the process, including the graveside service if there is to be one.

Sometimes the family makes the funeral arrangements with the funeral home and then lets you know what the plan is. Other times they want – or need – your involvement and help in making the physical arrangements. As with weddings, there is very little in a funeral that “must” take place, so we should respect the wishes of those making the arrangements. [3]

At a minimum, our involvement should include a moment – even if very brief – to speak some Christ-centered words of hope from the Scripture and to offer at least one prayer to the Father in the name of Jesus. If a family does not want either of these elements, then you can suggest that they have a memorial service instead of a Christian funeral (as we defined those terms above) and you can participate in that memorial service simply as another mourner and not as a minister “conducting” the funeral. In situations where the family seeks your input on the order of the service and what elements to include – such as congregational singing, Communion, or other acts of worship – you should encourage them to choose actions and ceremonies that help emphasize who Jesus is for humanity as our resurrection and life.

In such cases, readings from the Bible would be preferred over readings from inspirational sources, and songs of faith over inspirational songs. This does not mean that a Christian funeral does not include music, readings, testimonies, and other elements that are not explicitly Christ-centered. It just means that when designing a funeral service you want to make sure that some explicitly Christ-centered material is included.

In many churches, it is rare to see Communion included in a funeral service. However, since Communion is a symbol of humanity’s union with Jesus’ resurrected body and blood – and thus a sign of the hope of our own resurrections – it can be an appropriate part of worship in the context of a funeral. As we discussed in chapter 4, Communion needs to be appropriate to the worship context in which it is taking place. The proper worship theme of Communion at a funeral is how Jesus is the resurrection and the life and how, through Jesus’ body and blood, he shares with us his resurrected life. It usually works best to have the bread and wine trays passed among the congregation. This allows those who are present to discreetly pass it on without taking the elements if they choose to do so.

Mind: The mind is in a strange state when grieving the loss of a loved one. At moments everything may seem crystal clear, and every word, gesture, and facial expression of those around us becomes emblazoned in our memories. Other parts of the funeral are completely lost to us. When others later say, “remember when so-and-so said…” our minds are a complete blank. We remember nothing about it.

This ought to be an encouragement to us. We can easily become self-conscious and self-focused in the emotional intensity of a funeral. Since we have a symbolic role to play in representing the word of Jesus, we can begin to feel that we must say exactly the right words in exactly the right way. Putting this pressure on ourselves fails to see how this is Jesus’ ministry in which we are participating and is an over-inflation of who we really are. The fact is, most people probably are not going to remember much of what we say – good or bad.

What they will remember is our presence, our tone, and the general sense of what we spoke to their minds. So, in many ways, the less said the better. “I’m sorry,” “I’m praying for you,” and “Please tell me if there’s anything I can do to help” should all be standard parts of our vocabulary. As with many other types of ministry, one of our primary roles is to simply listen. Let the survivors talk about what they need to talk about as they go through their grief. If they ask questions, answer simply, with constant reference to the Father, Jesus, and their Spirit. So, for example, if someone says, “why would God let this happen?” a simple response is “I don’t know, I just believe that our Father loves us and Jesus is going to help us through this somehow.”

When it comes time for the funeral sermon, then we have our best chance to focus on the good news of Jesus and the encouragement it brings. Grieving people are longing to hear a message of hope and encouragement that acknowledges and takes into account the trauma and grief they are experiencing. We do not ignore or trivialize the shock and pain, but neither do we leave them in it.

This is who Jesus is: one who faces our trauma head on, without flinching from the grief it brings, while at the same time helping us begin to look beyond the immediate pain to the hope we have in him. It is helpful to study Jesus’ interaction with Martha and Mary in John 11 as they all three deal with Lazarus’ death. Jesus is able to mourn with those who are mourning while at the same time encouraging others with the love he has from his Father.

Most funerals involve not only a sermon but also a eulogy. The eulogy is designed to give people a chance to remember the deceased and what they loved about them. If you knew the deceased person well, the family may want you to deliver both the sermon and a eulogy. In many situations, however, one or more family members or friends will deliver eulogies and then you will give the sermon.

You can start your sermon with your own memories of the person and then move on to the gospel. In those rare circumstances when you are asked to perform the funeral of someone you did not know, you should not feel any pressure to offer a eulogy. If others have spoken about the person, you might just say “John sounds like a wonderful person. I am looking forward to getting to know him when we are all resurrected with him,” and then go on to preach the gospel in your sermon.

At this point you may want to review the standard GCI funeral ceremony and think about how its language fits with the gospel and how it will help you express yourself in the context of a funeral. You can find it online at https://www.gci.org/books/ceremonies-for-pastoral-use/.

Soul: The funeral customs we have talked about, together with the gospel and the presence of family and friends, are all designed to help humanity deal with the grief of death. The Holy Spirit has had a role throughout human history in inspiring these customs. Even when we human beings do not know and acknowledge our Father in heaven, or his Son, he does not abandon us and leave us alone to suffer our grief without him. Jesus is God with humanity whether humanity knows it or not. Not every custom or activity associated in human culture with funerals is good or from the Holy Spirit, but the human ability to deal with death and keep moving forward in life is a result of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to our souls.

As with all ministry, our goal is to be in step with the Spirit as he comforts people at a soul level. It is Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, who is ministering to people in the grief of death, and it is his ministry to them in which we are participating. This is why we spent so much time earlier in the chapter thinking about what death is in the light of who Jesus is. By understanding how Jesus participates with us in death and, in the ultimate sense, dies our death for us, we are better equipped to be in step with what he is doing as he ministers to people.

Every person deals with death in a slightly different way. Some are in denial, some are overcome with emotion, and some try to cope by staying busy. For the most part, we want to let people be themselves and grieve in the way that feels natural to them. We can have confidence in letting people go through the grieving process because we have confidence in who Jesus is for them and how the Spirit is at work in their souls.

The only exception might be if we notice that one person’s way of grieving is causing emotional damage to others. For example, if a father has completely withdrawn from his children after their mother’s death. Even then, we want to be slow and cautious, with much prayer and seeking the wisdom of the Spirit, in how we approach the situation. Occasions such as these may be a time to take someone aside and try to encourage them in a positive way to let Jesus empower them to change their behavior. Such situations, however, are rare and confined to times when the person’s grief is really causing further hurt to others.

In the same way that we pray for those who are sick in body, and trust Jesus to make them well in the way that he knows is best, so also we pray for the emotionally sickened souls of those who are grieving over the death of a loved one. We cannot fix it, nor should we try. We should be present with them in their grief, as a sibling, as a pastor, and as a friend. We should pray for them and with them. We should listen when they need to talk. We should offer bodily help, such as bringing food or running errands.

In all these ways the Spirit will be at work in and through us to bring about the healing that only he can bring. Even then, the Spirit does not promise to remove all the pain and grief of death before the new heavens and new earth are revealed. It is only when we have all been resurrected and the merger of heaven and earth has been unveiled for all to see that there will be no more crying or sorrow. In the meantime, we lean on Jesus. And Jesus upholds us by ministering to us through those around us, and we let the hope of the Spirit anoint our wounds until they are fully healed.

We are including a memorial message with this lecture. Feel free to adapt the message for your own circumstances. This message was appropriate for an elderly believer; deaths involving children, suicides, murders, and accidents often call for different approaches. For help with such circumstances, see Bryan Chapell, The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach, and Henry Brinton, ed., Sourcebook of Funerals.

Death Is a Defeated Enemy

By Michael Morrison

The Bible tells us that death is an enemy. People fear death. It means the end of our hopes and dreams. It means that we do not get to finish the projects that we have started. It means we see the birth of our children and grandchildren, but we do not see how they turn out in the end. Indeed, we wish that there would not be any end. We hope that they could all continue living, and enjoying life, and enjoying the fruit of their labors, of their relationships and accomplishments. We would all like to see more, and do more, and maintain our relationships and make new ones.

All of us have been touched by death – the death of a parent or grandparent, the death of a friend. We know that it will touch us, too. Death is an enemy that will hit every one of us. As the English poet John Donne said, “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee.” Each person’s death is a reminder that we will all eventually die. For each of us, death is an enemy – but the Bible tells us that this enemy has been defeated.

It’s found in the book of 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” It is an enemy, yes, but it shall be destroyed. Or as John Donne wrote, “death, thou shalt die.” There will come a time when there is no more death, no more crying, and no more tears. No more sorrow. No more sudden exits from the story of life – we will all live to see the fruits of our labors, time without end.

Now, in a time of death, in a time of sorrow, the Bible gives us hope of a world without death, of life that never ends, when even the last enemy of humanity has been defeated and death will affect us no more. The Bible says that even though death may touch us, it does not have the last word in our lives. It is not the end of the story, for any of us. It is merely the end of a chapter, the end of a short introductory chapter, of the book of our life.

It is a transition from one place to another. The apostle Paul described his own death as “going to be with the Lord” [Phil. 1:23]. And he said that this will be a far better experience than what we have here on earth. [Name], like Paul, has gone to be with the Lord, and is in a far better place, freed from infirmities and weakness.

The Bible gives us hope that we will also be with the Lord, and we will also be in a far better state than what we have now. That’s because Jesus Christ died and yet lives again; he was buried and yet is resurrected into new and glorious life. Jesus has won the victory over death, he has overcome the grave, and he lives again. But this is not just for himself – the entire reason he came to earth and lived and died and was raised from the dead, is precisely so that he may give this victory to us as well.

The victory that he obtained, is also a victory that he can share with us, so that we can share in the very same victory over death. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the firstfruits, the first part of the harvest, the one who guarantees that the rest of the harvest will come. We see this in 1 Corinthians 15, verse 20:

Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through one man, Adam, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man, Jesus Christ. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. (NLT)

The Bible gives us good news about death: that death has already been defeated. And the Bible gives us good news about life: that our life is not a pointless struggle that just grinds to a halt.

No, there is purpose and meaning, and we will each see the results of what we have done. The good news about life is that we will live again. And it’s not just that we will have more life, more of the same, but we will also have a better life, freed from pain and suffering.

Now, that may sound good, but the truth is even better than that, because this is not just a never-ending life, each of us on our own, in isolation from everyone else, but it’s a life in community, in which we can share life together in a continually improving way, each year better than the one before. All the relationships we left behind will be picked up again in a far better way.

It will be like family, only better. The Bible calls us children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters of each other, and this family will continue to grow in love and kindness for each other, because it’s a world in which we all live in the love of God the Father, in the way of Jesus the Son, and in the strength of the Holy Spirit. The family will be reunited, and will remain united in love, in the peace and joy of Jesus Christ.

It is truly good news, and that is why we need not fear death as the ultimate enemy. We know that in Jesus Christ, we will have the ultimate victory. Although death is still an enemy, and it still causes sorrow, we know that death does not have the last word. Jesus is the Word that triumphs over death, and through him, we will also triumph over death. Our sorrow today is mixed with hope, and we know that hope will triumph over our sorrow. [Name] will live again, and we will live again, and we will all enjoy life even more, or rather, much more, than we ever have in this life. As the Bible says, in Christ we will all be made alive.

Now, some people think, that sounds too good to be true. We aren’t perfect, and we don’t deserve to end up in a place where people have perfect lives. And that’s true – we don’t deserve it, but this is what God has made us for, and this is why Jesus came to earth to live and die. If we were perfect, if we were able to work our way out of this predicament, if we were able somehow to deserve it, then Jesus didn’t need to come to earth at all. But he did come, precisely because we didn’t deserve it, and because we could not rescue ourselves.

You see, God created humanity, and he is not going to let some enemy ruin his plans. The enemies in this case are sin and death, and God is not going to let them have the final say. When God created humanity, he said, “It is very good.” He liked what he made, and he is going to finish what he started. That means you, and me, and [name], and all who have ever lived.

God created humanity, and he loves humanity, and he is working to rescue his creation from all its enemies. He loves you, he loves me, he loves [name] and everyone else – and because he loves us, he sent Jesus to earth to live and die and to show us the way to eternal life. It comes to us not because we deserve it, but because God loves us. It comes to us not because of good things we have done, but because of the forgiveness that God gives us in Jesus Christ. It comes to us not because we have the willpower to change ourselves, but because God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts so that he changes us, and prepares us, for this glorious life to come.

By God’s grace and love, [name] will be there. She knew that Jesus was her Savior. She died in peace, not in fear, looking forward to a better life to come. All who accept the invitation will be there. God wants each of us to be there, and Jesus has paid the price so that we can be there, if we accept the invitation, trust that Jesus has done it for us, and we follow him.

As it says at the end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, chapter 22, verse 17: “The Spirit and the [church] say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes, take the free gift of the water of life.”

The apostle Paul describes it like this:

Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies… 

47 Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven.  48 Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man. 49 Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man, Jesus Christ.

 50 What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies [are not ready yet for eternal, spiritual life]. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.

 51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret, he says. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed!  52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown, [when Christ returns]. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our mortal bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die….

 54 Then this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory…. Thanks be to God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

So we look forward to the day when we will all be changed, when we will all be freed from the limitations and weaknesses of the flesh, when we will be reunited with [name] again, and we will all have the opportunity to let our relationship with him/her resume and grow even more, all through Jesus Christ, who brings us resurrection and eternal life.

Let’s look at one more scripture, from the book of Revelation, chapter 21. John, in his vision,

saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

Yes, we look forward to the final victory, and although death is still an enemy that brings sadness into our lives, we are confident that Christ has defeated this enemy and we will all share in the blessings of his victory. We pray for the day when we will all be transformed physically, spiritually, and in our relationships with one another. [Name] has left us for a while, like going on a long journey, but we will be united once again, and death will never touch any of us again, as we all live in a new and better world in the presence of the God who loves us, the Savior who died for us, and the Spirit who unites us.

Let’s close in prayer:

Father in heaven, we thank you and praise you for [name] and for all that he/she has meant to us. Thank you for the peace and comfort of knowing that he/she is safe in your loving hands, and that the day is coming when we will be reunited with him/her in the full joy of your salvation at the coming of Christ. We pray for your special presence, comfort and blessing on all the family and friends. We ask it in Jesus’ name, through the Holy Spirit, committing [name] to you as we await the glory of the resurrection. Amen.


[1] Cremation can make the process simpler and much less expensive. There is no biblical prohibition on cremation; God can resurrect a cremated body just as easily as one that was eaten by sharks and scattered throughout the oceans. Sometimes the deceased prefers that funeral expenses be kept to a minimum. “In lieu of flowers, please give a donation to X charity.” But there are still psychological and sociological (and sometimes evangelistic) benefits to having a dignified ceremony with attractive decorations.

[2] It can be helpful to learn more about the stages of grief. See the articles posted at https://archive.gci.org/books/when-a-loved-one-dies/. Also useful is a series of booklets published by Stephen Ministries: Kenneth Haugk, Journeying Through Grief.

[3] Occasionally it is not clear who should make the decisions. For example, the surviving spouse is emotionally stricken and unable to decide, and the children all have different ideas of what to do. This calls for patience and wisdom, sometimes mediation.