I’ve struggled for sometime to find the right balance in leading a funeral, because not everyone I’m going to help bury is going to be a Christian. When they are, it’s really pretty easy—their life has given me license to talk about the thing they cared about most: Jesus. But when they’re not, it can of course get a little weird.
I’ve seen it done before. The pastor takes the moment to tell everyone about Jesus by telling them that their recently departed loved one is now in Hell. Therefore, if anyone wants to escape the same destiny, now would be a good time to accept Jesus. The person is demonized and their entire life ends up equating to nothing more than a spiritual lesson. They are not honored in any way.
I didn’t know the young man I led a short memorial service for today and therefore I didn’t really know where he stood with Jesus. And really, only Jesus can know, for He is the judge, not me. I never was never given the sense that a full Christian-themed service was the way to go, so I limited my preaching to a prayer that worked to honor and remember their life, while lovingly sharing the gospel story.
On the off-chance that anyone else out there struggles with the same dilemma and can use the prayer or some form of it in their own work, here was mine:
God, we thank you for _____’s life. We recognize that every human being is an image of you, and therefore, at some level, we are always capable of catching a glimpse of what you are like in every person if our eyes are truly open. In _____ we have seen your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—and we thank you for those glimpses. We thank you for his/her life—that he/she existed—because you greatly desired him/her to. And we thank you for your unconditional love poured out on him/her from beginning to end.
He/she was a hero to many—a son/daughter, a brother/sister, and a friend. And though he/she is gone now, he/she lives on in the memories of all who knew him/her. Holy Spirit, we ask that you bring those closest to him/her to our minds often, so that we might lift them up in prayer as they continue to adjust to their loss. We ask that you would help each of them grieve appropriately and in their own way, and that each of us would play our part in being there for them.
God, we know you didn’t envision this kind of heartache upon humanity; for you wished us to live forever with you in your loving presence. But sin tore apart that dream and now we feel death’s constant impact. And so, Jesus, even in the midst of incredible sorrow, we thank you for coming to put an end to both sin and death, and for promising us that one day you would come back and restore and renew everything that exists. That one day, even death itself will die and that you’ll invite us to live on forever in your loving presence, just as you originally intended.
That one day, we will no longer be able to experience such tragedies like that of _____’s; for you will make such tragedies impossible to take place. What tears we have left, you yourself will wipe away. You will offer us life and love to its fullest, and your image will then be fully seen in humanity as we image you.
We thank you _____ and for all of this that you’ve done. In Jesus’ name, amen.