The Funeral: A Sinner of your own redeeming

I've been musing on this post from The Catholicity and Covenant Blog, discussing the counter
-cultural significance of the language of sin in Margaret Thatcher's widely watched funeral.  The Anglican funeral litrugy speaks frankly of sin and judgment, which are not always emphasized at funerals.  I have been to funerals in which we spend all of our time discussing (exaggerating?) the virtues of the deceased as if we are trying to convince ourselves (or God?) that this one surely deserves eternal beatitude.

In the United Methodist Church's funeral liturgy, we beseech the Lord to acknowledge "a sinner of your own redeeming..."

Not too long ago I attended a funeral led by a pastor (who I believe would self-identify as "progressive") who substituted the word "child" for "sinner."  Thus,  "Lord acknowledge a child of your own redeeming," while also dropping the affirmation at the beginning of the liturgy (from Revelation) that Jesus Christ holds the keys to death and hell. No doubt his motivation was to be "pastoral," which for many seems to mean "never mention sin, judgment, or anything uncomfortable."

Yet it seems to me that it is actually the liturgy which takes the genuinely pastoral approach.  Despite what we are tempted to say at funerals, the survivors and loved ones all know that this person who is now dead was not perfect. No matter how carefully well-meaning clergy (and lectionary makers) have shielded the flock from ever thinking about Judgment or Hell, everyone has heard of it anyway...perhaps they read it in the Bible, or heard it in the Creeds.
It is quite natural that the loved ones are wondering, at least on some deep level, about the eternal future of the deceased. The prayer of the liturgy addresses this head on acknowledging both the sinfulness of the deceased AND the promise of redemption through Jesus Christ. In other words, it tells the truth, which includes the bad news of our sin but the far greater good news of Christ's salvation; this truth-telling in the funeral liturgy empowers us to confess the truth about our deceased loved one, and about ourselves as well.  Having acknowledged that this person does not, in fact, deserve eternal blessing, we can now learn to trust Christ's promise of redemption for their future and ours.  I don't know what could be more genuinely pastoral than that.

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Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

A wonderful reflection on the way in which the liturgy gives us all we need in order to worship God faithfully. I have been in a Eucharistic service in a Methodist context where the pastor left out the prayer of confession. And I have been in many services (Methodist and otherwise) where the prayer of confession was changed dramatically to come across as something of a self-affirmation with no mention of sin or repentance. Such tendencies are among the worst examples of liberal individualism creeping into liturgical forms that are trying their best to help us think of ourselves differently.

8:58 PM, April 26, 2013  
Anonymous Tomoko said...

This is cool!

1:56 AM, July 29, 2013  

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