IVP - Online Pulpit - Preaching the Funeral Service - The Sermon

April 1, 2008

Preaching the Funeral Service - The Sermon

In my first funeral article, “Preaching the Funeral Service: Getting Started,” I described the steps a minister might take when notified of the death of a parishioner. This article describes the funeral sermon itself.

The first thing to remember when composing a funeral sermon is that it is designed to bring comfort to the grieving family. Its purpose is to show the hope made available to believers grieving the death of a loved one. My starting point is to remember Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13 NRSV). When I was a young minister, a person informed me that Christians do not grieve. He said grief showed a lack of faith. He used this verse as his proof text, which he quoted this way: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve.” It’s amazing how we can make the Bible say what we want by stopping where we like. Paul acknowledged that Christians grieve the death of loved ones. However, Christian grief is hope-saturated. It is not the hopeless grief borne by those outside of Christ. The funeral sermon should point to the hope that is available to us, especially in our grief.

The second thing to remember when composing a funeral sermon is that it should not be used to exploit the moment. In other words, this sermon is not the appropriate place to hold an evangelistic rally. Emotions are raw; tears flow easily. We should, without an apology, offer the hope made available to all in Jesus Christ. We certainly want to express the faithful reality that eternal life is available to us in him—and in him alone. However, to take advantage of the moment because people who never darken the doors of a church building happen to be there to “pay their respects” is unethical. In the funeral sermon, all that is said and done should provide hope and comfort to the grieving family and loved ones.

I usually try to personalize the funeral message as much possible. If I know the decedent personally, I will share personal anecdotes and warm memories. However, be careful never to share anything that was shared in confidence by the deceased person. If I am not well acquainted with the decedent, I will share information given to me by the family, acknowledging the source of what I am sharing. Because my goal is to provide hope and assurance to those left behind, I am not bound by my knowledge of the person who died. My role is to pastor those left in the void created by the death of their loved one. As preacher, I want to point them to the One who knows their grief and sorrow, and offers them comfort in their desperate time of need.

Here are some passages of Scripture that I use as the basis for my funeral sermons. I often weave them as a rich tapestry to offer comfort to the grieving family: Psalm 23; 46; 121; John 14:1-6; Romans 8:35-39; 1 Corinthians 15; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Revelation 21.

In the final article in this series, I will (1) share some examples of how I use these Scriptures, and (2) discuss the committal portion of the funeral service.

Posted by Craig Loscalzo at April 1, 2008 10:40 AM Bookmark and Share

Comments are closed for this entry.