When I die, please don’t call my burial service a Celebration of Life. Don’t get me wrong, I hope that people will want to celebrate my life. I just don’t want this to replace my Christian burial.
I want to be buried according to the rites of a Christian. I want to be one more brother in Christ, saved by grace, who died in him and will rise with him. I want to be buried like those who have gone before me.
Grief and Joy
Death is a terrible thing. The burial rite acknowledges the grief and pain of death. It doesn’t hide away from sorrow and loss or need to pretend that death doesn’t happen. Yet it includes both sorrow and joy. “Happy are those who die in the Lord” and “O worthy and eternal Judge, do not let the pains of death turn us away from you at our last hour.” It’s all there in a beautiful both/and.
Sometimes Celebrations of Life try to avoid the grieving process altogether. Instead, I hope my family and friends have a real chance to gather and to grieve together. To face and rue death together.
The Book of Common Prayer has a beautiful prayer summing this up:
O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our brother (or sister) N. We thank you for giving him to us, hisfamily and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We don’t need to pretend that death is not painful, but we can only face this in the light of God’s grace and the Resurrection of Christ.
I’m a Sinner
Sometimes the contemporary celebrations of life avoid stating that the person was a sinner. The Christian burial rites don’t need to pretend that I was, on balance, good enough to get into heaven.
I’ve let a lot of people down in my life, including God my creator, and I’m sure I will do it again. I hope those who knew me will be given the chance to forgive me, rather than pretending there is nothing to forgive. God has forgiven me, and so please celebrate that. I don’t need you to pretend I’m not a sinner.
These rites actually pray for me, a sinner. Facing my body, the Celebrant says,
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.
I don’t want to spend my whole life believing, saying, and preaching that I’m a sinner saved by grace, only to have people gather to proclaim that I was a special person who did more good than bad.
I’ve tried to live in a good way as best I can, but I don’t want to be portrayed as better than anyone else. If I’ve done any good for anyone, I’m thankful for that because it was a gift from God. But my salvation and peace don’t come from that. I’m just one lamb in my Savior’s flock. I like that. He loves me, and I love him.
If my life is eulogized, let it be in the context of God’s marvelous grace and the love that he puts in our hearts. Let it be the story of how God wove our stories together. Let it be a story of forgiveness, and let it leave room for even more forgiveness.
Worship Is The Center
The Christian burial rite is worship. We are gathering for a worship service that is about God and in that context we are mourning the death of a believer.
The funeral service is not separate from Sunday. It is a day of Christ.
I’ve been worshipping Christ with his Church my whole life. I don’t want my last service to be any different.
Remembering and Honoring Our Loved Ones
I have attended gatherings of family and friends to remember and celebrate the life of a loved one who has died. I have attended ceremonies to honor the achievements of a person who has passed on. I’ve buried my mother and other family and friends. I honor them. I’m thankful for them, and I am thankful for the ways I’ve been able to celebrate their lives. There are so many important and necessary ways to celebrate and grieve.
So, if you find it in your hearts to celebrate my life, thank you. I know I won’t deserve it, but I do appreciate the thought.
But please do it over a bottle of beer (or diet Coke) in the fellowship hall after the burial, not in place of it.
When that time comes, please bury me according to the Book of Common Prayer.
And if I’m allowed to say it about myself, may I rest in peace and rise in glory.
And so may you.
This post originally appeared on June 13, 2017. Updated August 30, 2018.