A funeral marks the close of a human life on earth. It is the opportunity for friends and family to express their grief, to give thanks for the life which has now completed its journey in this world and to commend the person into God’s keeping.
Arranging a funeral
The person who has died may have left a paragraph in their will describing the sort of funeral arrangements they hoped for. Naturally, the family will want to keep to such arrangements as far as possible.
The funeral director plays a very important part in all these arrangements and will want to know if the funeral is to be in the parish church or in the crematorium. Funeral directors know the local clergy, the local cemeteries and the crematoria.
Not everyone knows that they have the right to a funeral in their parish church, even if they and the dead person have not been church-goers. Nor do practising Christians always realise that they can have a Communion service as part of the funeral.
The clergy regard the taking of funerals as an important part of their work. They give a lot of time to visiting families, comforting those who are facing loss, finding out what service they wish and helping them to arrange it.
If one of the local clergy is to be asked to take the service, this should be done before any other funeral arrangements are made to make sure one is free and available. If the priest did not know the dead person well, then it would help to provide some details, especially if there is to be an address.
If you wish particular readings or music you should discuss these with the priest who will take the service.
These days many children attend funeral services. It is just as important for them to say goodbye as it is for adults. It is a good idea to prepare them well for what will happen and what the atmosphere may be like.
The funeral service
The service begins with the priest reading aloud such reassuring sentences from the scriptures as: ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ saith the Lord; ‘he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die,’ and ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth …’
A psalm – often The Lord is my shepherd – follows and lessons are read telling of God’s care and of the hope of eternal life.
At this point, there may be an address or a sermon remembering the life and work of the dead person and the great Christian beliefs about life beyond death. Such words can be a comfort and strength to the mourners but sometimes it is felt that the service and the readings from the Bible convey all that needs to be said.
If the family wishes, the Communion service follows. The prayers recall the promise of the resurrection, entrust the dead person to the love and mercy of God and ask for comfort and strength for those who mourn.
The committal is a particularly solemn moment of the funeral service. It takes place either at the graveside or, in the case of a cremation, in the crematorium chapel or in church before the hearse leaves for the crematorium.
In the cemetery or churchyard, the family will gather round the open grave into which the coffin is lowered and they will hear the words: ‘We therefore commit his (or her) body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life.’ Handfuls of earth are then scattered on the coffin.
In a crematorium, the words of committal may be accompanied by the closing of a curtain to hide the coffin from view or the coffin is moved slowly out of sight.
The committal can be a very emotional moment. Many who are suffering grief find that, even in their sadness, the words of prayer can lift them towards the experience of Christian rejoicing in the knowledge of life beyond death.
The offering of prayer and the trust that the person is in God’s safe hands can begin the process of healing the grief of loss.
The Church respects both burial of a body and burial of ashes after cremation. People have different reasons in making this choice. Sometimes the deceased had a clear preference. For some people environmental factors or availability and space considerations make a difference.
Although the churchyard at St. Mary’s is no longer open for burials, both Christ Church and St. Mary’s have memorial gardens where ashes can be buried. When this burial takes place, usually a few days after the funeral, a further very brief service can be held if the family wish it.
After the funeral
People who have lost someone close to them are often so busy with practical details and arrangements between the death and the funeral that they do not experience the full sense of their loss until later.
Grieving is a natural and important part of coming to terms with and healing this loss and it may continue for several months. If the clergy are asked, they will try to help. One often finds it is those who have suffered a close bereavement themselves, clergy or lay people, who can most easily offer comfort and support to those who mourn.
Comfort is also to be found in the promises of Jesus Christ, in the hope of the Resurrection and in the belief that the beloved person is safe in the hands of God.