Understanding the purpose of funerals can be very helpful as a Pastor plans to minister to a grieving family. More than an opportunity to present a message about heaven, a funeral presents a myriad of opportunities and needs that enable the love of God and the kindness of believers to be expressed. Understanding these opportunities and needs enables a Pastor to be more sensitive in providing meaningful and thorough ministry to people in need.
1. Funerals provide a structure through which comfort and spiritual, psychological, and social support can be provided to the survivors during the initial stage of mourning. Well designed funeral services carry out and reflect the core beliefs and values of those receiving ministry, thus validating and accentuating the relevance and significance of their faith.
2. Though funerals serve as a time to remember and honor the dead, funerals are really conducted for the living. They bring survivors close together for needed community support, affirming that life goes on. Meaningful funerals are doorways of healing for the bereaved.
3. Funerals provide a time of order and structure during what may seem like a time of disorder and chaos in the lives of the survivors.
4. Funerals can help satisfy the need of people to do something for the deceased.
5. Funerals help people accept the painful reality of death. In accepting the reality of death, there is, of necessity, a transition that occurs in the life of the survivors. Funerals assist mourners in beginning to accommodate to the changed relationship between themselves and the deceased loved one. In other words, the relationship with the deceased shifts from that of physical presence to that of memory.
6. Funerals provide a time and a place for the acknowledging and releasing of emotions.
7. Funerals allow the Church to proclaim its most significant doctrine: the resurrection. An ideal funeral sermon should:a. Comfort with the truth of Scripture
b. Instruct listeners about the way of salvation
c. Remind men of the certainty of death
d. Invite people to take Christ as their Savior
8. Funerals begin the process of reintegrating the bereaved back into the community.
9. Funerals remind people of their own mortality, and cause them to search for answers concerning their own eternal destiny.
10. Funerals bind the social group together through present experience and collective memory. They help the group adjust to the loss of one of its members, and affirms to the group the continuity of life; though one of their members has died, the community lives on.
Adapted in part from Death and Grief: A Guide for Clergy, by Alan D. Wolfelt, Accelerated Development, Inc.