Shepherd of the Flock

Funeral services are not necessarily places where you might expect a lot of theological nuance. Certainly if you are in a large congregation that has a lot of resources then there is a great deal that can be done during a funeral service. But even in small congregations, a funeral service has a great deal worth unpacking.

The wording of the service is the most obvious aspect. There’s very little need to proclaim the Law of sin and death in a funeral service. The effects of sin are on display for all to see. Instead, the wording is almost entirely the Gospel of Christ’s triumph over death. The service draws heavily on the benefits given by God through baptism where we are joined to Christ’s death and then to His resurrection. The funeral pall, if used, communicates that the deceased has put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness through baptism.

The more subtle aspects of a funeral service are at the same time some of the most profound. Typically the pastor will lead the casket down the aisle to the front and will lead the casket out at the end of the service. If the family joins the procession, they do so in a secondary position, behind the casket. This is also the case when transitioning from the church to the cemetery. The hearse carrying the casket will lead, followed not by the family, but by the pastor.

This might seem a bit odd. After all, if the pastor is just there to do his job then it doesn’t really matter where he is. He doesn’t need to be first in line. He could be anywhere. Nothing will start until he gets there anyway. Why not let the family? They’re the ones that cared about him or her the most. They should take priority.

True and true, if you assume the pastor is just there to conduct the service and go home. It is also true that the pastor needs to attend to the family and care for them and that’s who he proclaims the Gospel to, but all of his other activity revolves around the body itself.

This focus only makes sense from a baptismal perspective. A deceased person has no more need of anything from us. They are with the Lord in glory and have no need of our prayers or anything else we might offer. They no longer suffer and they merely wait in the presence of God until the day of resurrection.

However, as a baptized child of God, things don’t work the same as they do for everyone else. As St. Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Being a recipient of Holy Baptism thus makes you holy as well, given to God and owned by Him. The body He gave you has been offered back to Him. It is His now. That doesn’t stop being true just because your spirit isn’t currently inhabiting that body.

A pastor’s primary duty is not to the congregation, but to God. He is there to care for the things of God and ensure they are used properly. The most important of those are God’s Word and sacraments. But, as he carries out his priestly role, the pastor is responsible for the proper use of all holy things. That includes the body of one who has been baptized and claimed as His.

In that sense, the family takes a secondary priority because their job is done. They cared for and loved that person during life. The deceased has no more need of that from us here on earth. However, a pastor’s duty continues. This particular sheep has been given into the care of this particular shepherd and he is still responsible for caring for until he sees it safely to its final resting place and he commends it to God.

The baptismal promises God makes regarding our body, such as how it is the temple of the Holy Spirit, are not given limitations or end dates. Your body doesn’t ever cease to be your body. In the resurrection you will not be given a new body, but a re-newed body, a body made new. This is why your pastor so lovely cares for your body even when you have died. Your body was lovingly made by your Creator as a gift. Your pastor wants to make sure that gift is kept safe as possible so it is ready and waiting for you when Christ returns.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: