If the funeral is the mourner’s first significant social event as a new person, we must be a community that accepts them with their pain. Along with pointing them to the hope found in Jesus, the funeral service needs to tell them, “You and your grief belong with us.” We love you as you are. If their first time back in the Christian community sends the message, “We want you here as long you do not bring your sorrow,” we have failed catastrophically.
This morning, I had the privilege of joining the radio show Kurt and Kate Mornings on Moody Radio in Florida. They asked me to discuss a recent post titled, It is a Weakness of Faith to Refuse to Mourn the Death of Loved Ones. If they release the segment as a podcast, I will link it here. In preparing for the discussion, I reflected a little more on that post and the importance of funerals. As I lay out my thoughts, I am not primarily addressing those who are mourning, but the rest of us who are called to surround the grieving with support in their time of need.
One of the reasons I believe many Christians try to suppress grief at funerals by emphasizing the hope we have in Jesus, as if grief and hope in Christ are incompatible, is because we need an excuse to avoid confronting someone else’s pain. It is as if our faith is not strong enough to face the death and pain they are experiencing head-on. The mourner’s pain is natural and can coexist with a heart full of confidence in the greatness of our God, but if we are unable to be confronted by the pain they are experiencing, that inability is evidence of a weakness of faith on our part. True faith can look the enemy death square in the face, feel the pain it brings, and still trust God. In fact, this is where we learn best that God is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18)
We must understand what survivors are going through, not only to be a good friend to them but to be ready ourselves when death comes to our door. Mourning is not something that comes and goes quickly. It lingers for years. Todd Billings, in his excellent book The End of the Christian Life, paints the following picture. Many people picture grief as a short and curable illness that lands you in the hospital where you get the procedure you need; everyone brings you a casserole, you heal, and you are back to normal in no time. That is an incorrect picture. It is more like finding yourself in the hospital only to learn you have a chronic illness that will affect you for the rest of your life. In this situation, everyone comes to visit you, but you are still left with the disease after they leave. You may slowly feel a little better over time, but life will never be the same.