A recent discussion regarding 1 Corinthians 15 had me thinking about committal services. Committal services often seem to be thought of as separate from a funeral service, when they are meant to be the completion of a funeral service. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, a committal service is the brief service conducted at the graveside of a deceased Christian. They typically have a few prayers and a Scripture reading or two, rarely do they have any sort of homily because that is done in the funeral.
It might seem like all that needed to be said was going to be said at the funeral, and yet that is not the case. Some important elements are held for this point, where the context gives them greater meaning. The committal usually begins with a prayer and then a Scripture reading or two. The pastor then makes a declaration:
“We commit the body of our brother/sister to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.”
The pastor has declared how this person has come to be in the casket. He or she was a sinner. The curse pronounced on Adam’s sin has done its work. The body is to return to the earth from whence it originated. Often the pastor will sprinkle dirt on the casket as a further visible reminder of where this body had come from and where it would now be going. The Law is harsh and brooks no exceptions. Though it is in that very proclamation of the Law that the Gospel, too, is announced. The baptismal grace given by God to His people has bound them to the death of Christ, and to His resurrection. This body will rise again, and when it does, it Christ’s triumph over death.
The pastor then continues in asking God’s blessing:
“May God the Father, who created this body; may God the Son, who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.”
Through baptism, God has claimed this body as His own. It operates by His rules now. That means the promises made through baptism will continue to hold true, even in death. God keeps that promise, even in death. God made that promise and He wants you to hear it again, even as the body of your loved one goes into the ground.
We are people who live in the hope of the resurrection, resting on the sure and certain promise given through Christ that our resurrection is not just possible, it is guaranteed. The body that goes into the ground will rise again. It will have new life again. It has not be abandoned or forgotten. What’s more, when that body does come up out of the grave, it will never go back. Christ has risen. Christ has triumphed over our most feared enemy, death.