A Christian funeral is distinguished by its undercurrent of joy based on the knowledge that the deceased is now with the Lord. Scripture teaches that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). The believer's friends and family will understandably mourn the loss of their loved one, yet they do so with hope because of the promises of God.
In 1 Thessalonians 4, the apostle Paul addressed the issue of Christ's return, including how to think about believers who have already died. Verse 13 teaches, "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep [dead], that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope." This emphasis on hope includes two aspects. First, we can rejoice that the believer who dies is now with Christ. Second, we can embrace hope that the dead in Christ will rise first and we will one day be reunited with them for eternity (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
For believers in Christ, death is not the ultimate goodbye, but rather a temporary separation until being reunited again in heaven with the Lord. This understanding offers hope even during the difficult time of grief associated with a funeral. While tremendous sadness may be involved, hope remains.
However, this future hope should not belittle the loss of a loved one. Romans 12:15 teaches us to "weep with those who weep." It is in mourning with those who mourn that we can truly assist those experiencing the loss of a loved one. While other practical matters such as meals or funeral plans can be helpful, one of the most helpful things to the person who has lost a loved one is to have another friend who will sit and weep with them.
Both mourning the loss of a believer and focusing on the future hope of seeing them again are important for a Christian funeral. Further, prayer and Scripture offer much comfort and can be utilized to emphasize the hope of the believer. Psalm 23, for example, is often read during funerals to emphasize God's presence with us during difficult times. Prayers and songs also offer additional ways to remember God's help and hope during difficult times.
Finally, a Christian funeral can also serve as a way to help non-believers reflect on their own eternity. It is not uncommon to hear of family members or friends believing in Christ during a funeral because of the testimony of the person who passed away or something shared during the funeral ceremony. Even in the most difficult of times, God can work to bring new life to those who still seek Him.
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