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I was horrified. I sat among the others as the funeral service began. The parent of a good friend had died, and I was lending support by my attendance. The minister officiating the service knew the deceased quite well, but opened the service by reading—verbatim—the obituary that was published in the funeral home’s on-line section. It came across as cold and uncaring, with very little affection for this family’s patriarch.
A memorial service provides a great opportunity for the pastor to minister to the living in their time of loss—yes, the service is for those of us who remain, not the one who has perished. It is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments and influence of the deceased, and by doing so help mourners find an appropriate expression of grief.
I have found that Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 provides a creative outline for personalizing the facts about the deceased, while maintaining a scriptural connection. Not every verse in this passage has direct application, but most do.
The passage begins with, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven,” which helps acknowledge that in spite of the reality of death, God is still in control and working out His plan. Here are some verses that are helpful:
“A time to be born and a time to die.” – The pastor can share the dates and places of birth and death, as well as names of parents.
“A time to plant and a time to uproot.” – The pastor can talk about how the deceased “planted the good seed of his influence” in the lives of family and friends by describing accomplishments in career and family, personality traits, the names of children and grandchildren, etc. It’s at this point where it might be appropriate to mention the name of the spouse (whether living or dead), talk about how they met, the date upon which they said “I do” and the fact that for many years, “they lived the truth that two had indeed become one flesh.”
“A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” – The pastor can acknowledge the emotionality of a funeral/memorial service and the appropriateness of expressions of sorrow by mentioning that even “Jesus wept” when he came to the tomb of His friend, Lazarus.
“A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” – The pastor can encourage mourners to love, support and embrace each other during their time of loss.
These are just some suggestions, each pastor can customize these verses to celebrate the life of the deceased. Many families appreciate this kind of expression. Let God lead you as to how best minister during a funeral service.