Now, I wonder how many bloggers talk about funerals? Perhaps its something I should google when i have a few minutes to spare? I guess as they are such an important and striking part of life that a number of people talk about them, but I do wonder how many of us who actually end up doing them talk about them online? There was a conversation about them at Dr John's place recently, and I was impressed by the approach some Churches have to this ministry, though things are very different in the U.S. to what we can do here.
Enough speculation. Back to the question at the head of this post. It's not an entirely rhetorical question so comments are invited! My answer will follow below.
I'm not going to go into much detail, as the bereavement ministry us ministers offer is a very personal one (or should be) and it's enough to say that I've had a run of funerals lately, some of which have been easier than others to put together and to lead, all of which have taken a fair amount of time and energy - but have been worth that time and energy.
But as far as I understand, the most important thing about funerals is to proclaim the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. To be reminded that we are all children of God and loved completely by him and to remember our calling to follow Christ in the time we have here. So our choice of readings is both comforting and challenging, as our the prayers and the talk. This is the bottom line. I take this as a given, as a minister of Christ's Church.
But perhaps more immediately to the family and to those who attend, is that this funeral is about a particular person, and must be personal. In England the Church of England must be willing to do the funeral of anyone who dies within the geographical boundary of the Ecclesiastical Parish. That is, anyone who dies in my villages is entitled to a funeral, and to the ministry that goes with it of visiting and prayer, whether or not they have ever set foot in our local (or indeed any) Church. I will take these funerals, depending on the family's wishes, at our Church or at the local Crematorium. The fact that I, as Vicar of these villages, may not have met the person means that sometimes, though less and less as I am part of these communities for longer, I know little about them. So on my visits I try, as well as offering some comfort and help in putting the service together, to pick up the essence of someone as their loved ones saw them. Interestingly, even for those people I have known very well, sometimes the way they are remembered by their family offers a whole new perspective which enables me to reflect their multifaceted characters more fully.
So I - and all the ministers I know - go to great lengths to try and offer a real opportunity to remember and say goodbye to a unique, loved, quirky individual (everyone is quirky!) as well as giving thanks to God for the good in their lives, and commending them to the love and care of God.
But it's not always easy, and sometimes families have no idea what to say, so we weave together what we can glean from friends around the village, from what we know of the individual who has died, and from just about any source available. All so that no-one ever thinks that we have a sausage-factory approach to these services, as if any of them were ever run-of-the-mill, 'there goes another one' mundane events. We are saying goodbye to someone who made an impact - for better or worse - on the lives around them, who changed the world, perhaps just a little. Who was, and is, a child of God, loved by God, and for whom Christ died.
Requiem in pacem.