As mentioned a couple of posts ago, we had Garnet van Popta at our ministerial conference last week. Garnet is a member of our congregation at Providence and he works as a funeral director for Kitching, Steepe & Ludwig. One of the things that Garnet discussed with us pastors was the prevailing trend amongst Reformed churches in Ontario towards having the burial before the service at the church. He made an excellent case for doing things the old way: first a funeral, then the burial. He gave us ten reasons and, with his permission, I’m including them here for your consideration:
10 reasons why the burial should happen after the funeral:
1. Starting the day with the burial of a loved one is awkward. There is no context to what is happening.
2. The funeral prepares the family and friends to be able to, in faith, bury the body of a loved one.
3. The burial is the hardest, most emotional part of the day of the funeral. After that is over, the “memorial service” takes on a very different tone from a funeral.
4. The private family burial often cuts out a) the communion of saints (a reflection of the thought that we don’t need each other as much as we used to?) and b) friends and community surrounding the deceased. We tend to value privacy above the coming together of a community.
5. The committal service is an act of faith. 1 Corinthians 15: 42-44: 42 “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
The burial of a believer in Christ is a perfect opportunity to declare the gospel. By downplaying the burial, we downplay the significance of it.
6. We also miss this opportunity to show and testify to the faith we have in Christ to all the unbelieving friends and neighbours who may be attending the funeral.
7. Having the casket at the front of the church during the funeral reminds us of the reality of death, and allows us to confront that reality in a healing way. Sure, it’s emotional. Someone has died, remember?
8. Sometimes it makes the day’s schedule inconvenient. It is good for us to release our grip on our pragmatic, down to the minute scheduling. The death of a loved one is never convenient. And that is okay.
9. “Dutch Calvinists” are the only ones doing it this way. Ask a Christian from any other denomination, and they know that the body should be present for a funeral. (Maybe not the strongest reason, but food for thought…)
10. The progression of the “road of grief” makes sense: It starts with the initial, private shock for the family and gradually includes the community around them, through people gathering at the home, offering support and presence at the visitation, coming together for worship at the funeral, and processing together with the deceased for the last time to the burial. And then we leave the body of our loved one in the cemetery, and often gather together once more, to share a meal.