Theology Matters Conference - Oct 8-10th, 2024

Theology Matters Conference - Oct 8-10th, 2024

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The Reformed Pastor Confronts the “Last Enemy”

The theological significance of the funeral service and sermon.

Every aspect of pastoral ministry can and should be viewed as an occasion for theological witness and reflection. Nowhere is that more important than in the face of death with the depth of the issues it raises and the intensity of the grief it provokes. The stark reality of death blows away our empty clichés like an umbrella in a hurricane. In this essay I will focus primarily on the theological significance of the funeral service and sermon. That is not meant to denigrate other aspects of the church’s pastoral ministry on the occasion of death which are vitally important, but it is to insist that in the work of comforting the bereaved the pastor on behalf of the Church universal has a unique Word to proclaim that is and always will be “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:1).

The Prerequisite of Kindness

The late Dr. John Leith, well known to many readers of this journal, names the challenge death poses for the Christian community. “The funeral is a critical moment in the life of any Christian congregation. Death breaks community and threatens faith and life with meaninglessness. It also, at least frequently, leaves a painful void in the depths of the personal existence of those who are bereaved. Hence on the occasion of death the             church is challenged to confess the faith and to assert the reality of its communal existence.”[1]

But Leith goes on to insist that “good taste,” kindness and pastoral sensitivity, are necessary prerequisites for the church’s ministry at death. We all know people who have been emotionally wounded by an insensitive remark at a time of grief or by a pastor’s inappropriate use of the funeral as an occasion for emotional or theological manipulation. “In my own experience,” writes Leith, “death and the burial of the dead is a time in which kindness should take precedence over our own ideas or preferences.”[2]

That is not to say that the wishes of the family of the deceased should always take precedence. There are times when a clear and gracious No must be said to requests that would not be appropriate for a service of Witness to the Resurrection. Yet in saying No, the pastor has the opportunity to say Yes in good conscience to things he or she might not have suggested but which can appropriately be used in a service of remembrance and witness to the resurrection. The bottom line is this. The planning of a funeral service should never be the occasion for an arrogant display of the pastor’s authority. Kindness and pastoral sensitivity are necessary prerequisites for effective ministry at the time of death.

The Funeral Service

The form and order of the funeral service will vary according to one’s denomination or context in ministry. Denominations with clearly defined service for the burial of the dead free the pastor from at least some of the pressures for improvisation that I will discuss later. But pastors in non-liturgical churches can also use appropriately the best resources from across the liturgical spectrum to provide theological grounding amid the crises of life. The more intense the emotion in a service the more important it is to let the emotion find voice in well-ordered liturgy. Liturgies shaped by centuries of pastoral and theological reflection can speak “out of the depths” without falling into bathos or sentimentality.

Here, however, those in the mainline North American context face the challenge posed by a culture which is largely disdainful of liturgy, afraid of authentic emotion, contemptuous of the wisdom of the past, and lacking in the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual resources to face death realistically. A daunting challenge indeed.

In a wide-ranging essay on “Death and Politics,” Joseph Bottum explores the intriguing proposition that “The fundamental pattern for any community is a congregation at a funeral” (emphasis his). Bottum argues that the loss of rituals dealing with death have profound and disturbing social and political consequences.

A culture that closes down its public forms for the expression of mourning’s irrationality—a society that eliminates rituals and ceremonies with at least a claimed origin in the most emotionally meaningful portions of its history—has forgotten the hazards that those rituals and ceremonies once channeled and controlled. … The inexplicability of mortality can, under the pressure of grief, issue in astonishingly destructive hunts for someone to blame. Grieving people are dangerous people.[3]

In the Reformed tradition there is no required liturgy for the funeral service. Indeed, there has often been an antipathy toward anything more than the most austere funeral service. The first Westminster Directory for the Publique Worship of God (1645) specified, “When any person departeth this life, let the dead body, upon the day of burial, be decently attended from the house to the place appointed for public burial, and there immediately interred, without any ceremony.” The Westminster divines went on to insist that “praying, reading, and singing both in going to, and at the grave, have been grossly abused, are no way beneficial to the dead, and have proved many ways hurtful to the living, therefore let all such things be laid aside.”[4]  No one I know would go that far anymore, nor should they. But given the fact that funeral services and sermons in particular have at times been “grossly abused,” it is understandable why some are leery of funerals in general. A long history of abuses legitimates their concern. A pastor and congregation’s first responsibility in the crisis of grief is to “do no harm.”

The Limitations of Eulogy

If at times funerals have been an occasion for emotional exploitation, more often they have been used merely to eulogize the deceased. Instead of offering a thoughtful wrestling with the meaning of a particular person’s life under God in light of the stark reality of death, funerals too often have been used to extol, sometimes in a less than honest way, the supposed virtues of the deceased.

After the death of Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, Dr. James C. Goodloe conducted his funeral at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, where Powell had been a member. He did so with such theological integrity that Justice Antonin Scalia was moved to write a letter of appreciation that said in part:

In my aging years, I have attended so many funerals of prominent people that I consider myself a connoisseur of the genre. … I am surprised at how often eulogy is the centerpiece of the service, rather than (as it was in your church) the Resurrection of Christ, and the eternal life that follows from that. I am told that in Roman Catholic canon law encomiums at funeral masses are not permitted––though if that is the rule, I have never seen it observed except in the breach. I have always thought there is much to be said for such a prohibition, not only because it spares from embarrassment or dissembling those of us about whom little good can truthfully be said, but also because, even when the deceased was an admirable person––indeed, especially when the deceased was an admirable person––praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for, and giving thanks for, God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner. …

Perhaps the clergy who conduct relatively secular services are moved by a desire not to offend the nonbelievers in attendance, whose numbers tend to increase in proportion to the prominence of the deceased. What a great mistake. Weddings and funerals (but especially funerals) are the principal occasions left in modern America when you can preach the Good News not just to the faithful, but to those who have never really heard it.[5]

Scalia’s point is well taken. The essential task of the preacher at the funeral is not to eulogize the deceased but to bear witness to the faith of the Christian community––that in the resurrection of the crucified Jesus the living God is triumphant over death and will raise to life eternal all who are in Christ. The preacher rehearses for the gathered community the promise of the resurrection, not in general, but for a particular life lived amid the ambiguities of life in a fallen world. The funeral sermon proclaims the promises of God as it declares God’s eternal Yes to life, to love, to hope in the face of Death’s relentless No.

In the funeral service the pastor is not merely seeking to offer comfort, as important as that is. He or she is engaging Death, “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26), in a combat that, while essentially verbal, is nonetheless real. In that combat the Christian community has a unique witness to offer. Over against Death’s claim to have the last word in the life of everyone who ever lived, the Christian faith declares that the final word belongs, not to the death that destroys us, but to the living God who has named and known us and from whose love nothing in life or death can separate us.

Death as “Appointed End” and “Last Enemy”

In seeking to delve more deeply into the ministry of the church on the occasion of death, it is important to distinguish between death as a biological event that comes to all that lives and Death as a spiritual power that seeks to negate the meaningfulness of life and the preciousness of love.[6] There is no single “theology of death” in scripture. Death is viewed both as the appointed end to human life and as “the last enemy,” the spiritual power that seeks to rob life of its meaning and value. Both aspects must be taken into account.

Physical death is the universal human condition. It is the assured ending of life which, when acknowledged honestly, can make the passing of life more precious and the living of life more meaningful. Death serves as a stark reminder that we are vulnerable, radically dependent creatures who cannot secure our own being. We need to name death honestly, not bury it under euphemisms like “passed away.” It is not morbid––it is an act of grace––to be reminded regularly of the fact of our mortality. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). Thomas Oden sums up the reciprocal relationship between death and life succinctly: “Those who take life seriously take death seriously. Those who take death seriously take life seriously. Where death is avoided, life is avoided. Only one who has accepted the reality of death is prepared to accept life.”[7]

In a profound and moving essay written while he himself was dying of cancer, Dr. Alan Lewis of Austin Presbyterian Seminary distinguishes three aspects of the biblical understanding of death. He names them Consent, Confrontation, and Conquest. Lewis sets God’s Confrontation and Conquest of death in the resurrection of Jesus in the context of our Consent to the limits of our mortality in God’s good creation. Before death is seen as curse or “enemy,” it first must be acknowledged as part of the finite creation that God declares “very good.” Lewis writes,

Perishability, which God has both given and indwelt, enhances rather than distracts from the loveliness of life; just as real flowers transcend the beauty of indestructible but artificial substitutes, precisely because they are so precarious and frail, teetering on the verge of dissolution. And along with beauty, fragility brings trust, thanksgiving, wonder. Coming from dust and returning to it, we are summoned to value our dependence on Another, to accept our limitations and restrictions, to throw off the heavy burden of sole responsibility for our existence and entrust it back to its transcendent source. Likewise, our knowledge that it will not last forever, adds immeasurably to our gratitude for life, however short.[8]                                          

Lewis goes on to insist: “the pastoral challenge is to help the dying give their own consent” to the boundaries of death, “freely and without rancor.” Understood as the gracious limit to life in creation and embraced in faith, death for the believer can be experienced as “the final chapter,” an “open door,” the offering back to God the gift of life received.

When the appointed limits to life are embraced in faith, the dying and the pastor may together rediscover trust and wonder, thankfulness and peacefulness, in acknowledging that they are finite creatures and that that is very good. … Even when death comes tragically and prematurely, it is possible in retrospect to judge the abbreviated life not by its extension but by its quality and content; and to be grateful from the vantage-point of its last chapter for every page and word of the preceding human story, however short.[9]

Viewed biologically, death is a natural event that comes to all that lives and can be accepted in faith as a given part of life in creation. While all deaths bring sadness, not all are tragic. When my father died of dementia, none of us in the family would have wished for him to suffer a day longer. When death finally came, it came more as an awaited friend than a dreaded enemy. It was the expected and not the feared end of a long, full life lived intensely in service to God and love for others.

But the fact that the ordained limit of death can be accepted in faith does not make Death less of “a spiritual enemy” against which God contends and over which God is triumphant. Lewis goes on to speak forcefully of “how implacable is God’s own resistance to the demonic enemies of life.”

Confrontation is the divine response to death. Forget the spinelessness of ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’; jettison the shibboleth that makes ‘reconciliation’ God’s wimpish posture toward everything. Between the cross and resurrection we see confirmed once and for all and without ambiguity God’s absolute refusal to be gentle with the aggressor, the divine determination never to make peace with death or to be reconciled to its destructiveness. God’s passion for life has as its obverse an infinitely passionate anger—against the disfigurement of beauty, the disruption of harmony, the spoliation of the body, the rupturing of good life. Surely it is God’s instincts, first and foremost, that Dylan Thomas captured with his quivering “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”[10]

Under the power of Sin, death is not merely the appointed limit to life. Death is the demonic Power that seeks to say No! to the promises and purposes of God––most of all a final and decisive No to love! In the Christian funeral we are not called to make our own “separate peace” with Death but to confront Death with that “Word above all earthly powers.”

Tom Long, who has written extensively and helpfully on the Christian funeral, sums up the purpose of the funeral sermon:

When all is said and done, we do not preach at funerals primarily to provide comfort––though solace and support are, thank God, often given through the sermons. And we are not there to explain why all this happened––though the hunger for meaning in the face of meaninglessness, thank God, is often addressed in what we say. What is more, we are not there to supply spiritual solemnity to an already somber situation. What we are there to do is unmask a lie.[11]

Death understood as a spiritual power proclaims the great lie that love is futile and ultimately absurd. Death says in effect, “Love anyone who is under my power, and sooner or later I will tear your beloved from you and leave you heart-broken. Love, if you dare, but you’ll be sorry. Those who love much, suffer much.”In a world where Death wins every time in the life of everyone who ever lived, we must ask in one way or another, “Is the pain of love really worth it?” We answer with our lives if not with our minds.

In arming for battle with the “Prince of Darkness grim,” we need to probe deeply the relationship between death and love. The more we love life and the more we love those with whom we share the precious gift of life, the more painfully we grieve our separation in death. Death can be a matter of indifference only to those to whom life and love have ceased to matter deeply. Jürgen Moltmann is right: 

If [death] is experienced as the destruction of a beloved life, then love rises up in rebellion against death and does not ask just about the meaning of this particular death; it calls death itself into question. Love wants to live, not die, to endure, not pass away. The life of love is ‘eternal life,’ so as long as we love we shall never accept death.[12]

Love is never “resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.”[13] Neither is God, not if we take our cues from the New Testament. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is God’s own refusal to be resigned to the shutting away of love in the darkness of death. God does not allow the beloved Son to be lost in Death’s dominion. God meets Death head on and triumphs over it. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). In the death and resurrection of Jesus, God engages Death in mortal combat. “He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor. 15:25-26, see also Psalm 110—the most quoted psalm in the New Testament).

Preparing for Battle with the “Last Enemy”

As the living God engaged Death in mortal combat, so the preacher in the funeral sermon engages “Death’s lies in pitched battle.”[14] But how is the pastor to be formed for such deadly combat? What basic training is necessary? I suggest that the pastor is best formed by: 1) an ongoing immersion in the biblical witness to the resurrection of the body; 2) wide reading in the best resources of the Christian tradition, and; 3) years of reflecting on the nature of Christian hope.

Formation does not happen quickly, but it can happen in those open to its disciplines. A pastor would do well to read at least one serious treatment of eschatology each year.[15] Preaching a series of sermons or teaching a course for the congregation on “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” would encourage the pastor to deal both with the biblical witness and the actual questions and concerns of the congregation. Over time it could serve to lay the groundwork for the congregation’s ability to participate more meaningfully in services of Witness to the Resurrection and in offering authentic Christian comfort to one another.

In a remarkably helpful essay, “Is There Life After Death?” Jürgen Moltmann names and addresses the specific questions people most often ask in the face of death. The questions he identifies can serve well as an agenda for ongoing theological reflection. The questions include: What remains of our lives when we die? What awaits us? What lasts? Where are the dead? Moltmann also addresses issues of Death and Love, Death and Sin, the nature of the soul, and the relationship between the living and the dead.[16] Sustained reflection on such issues over the years can serve to form pastors who are able to articulate the faith of the Christian community on the occasion of death in light of the real questions grieving people ask.

To this point we have dealt primarily with the theological work of the pastor in the face of death. But that is not to denigrate the pastoral aspect of the funeral service in which we remember and give thanks to God for a particular life lived among us. The funeral service and sermon must not remain at the level of theological generalities. They must lift up a unique life in thanksgiving to the living God.

For all the problems with eulogies as previous stated, the service must deal with the concrete particularities of the life of the deceased in an honest and recognizable way. This particular life, however unfinished and incomplete it may have been, was a gift of God for which we give thanks. We do not counter Death’s great lie with our own little lies about the deceased, as if somehow Death itself could be buried under a thick resume of good deeds. We tell the truth in love about a part of a person’s life, a person known and loved by the gathered community of faith. We lift up to God the “narrative thread” of grace woven in and through the tapestry of the life of the deceased, even if there were many loose ends. Most often we do so through stories and remembrances. Time spent with the family of the deceased in which they are encouraged to tell stories, to laugh and cry together, is deeply precious. As the life of the deceased was God’s gift to us, so in the funeral service and especially in the funeral prayer we can offer that life back to God with thanksgiving.

In addition to the theological and pastoral aspects of the service there is also an educational component. The word “educational” may sound overly didactic, but every service should offer a Christian understanding of  “life, death, and destiny.” Over time a congregation can be given a vocabulary of faith and a grammar of hope. As the Christian community gathers in worship on the occasion of death, it bears witness to what it most surely believes as it rehearses the faith of the church universal.

The Methodist theologian Will Willimon suggests:

In a death-denying culture where death is looked upon as a bizarre intrusion and the resurrection is regarded as naive fantasy, a pastor might see every funeral as a time for proclaiming with evangelistic and missionary zeal, the radically honest and hopeful Christian word at the time of death among modern people who are infatuated with youth and who delude themselves into thinking that they have a natural right to immortality on their own terms.[17]

Willimon wisely encourages the pastor to regard every funeral zealously and enthusiastically as a “teachable moment,” and not just for the congregation of believers. Present in every funeral service will be some who no longer or never did believe, as well as some who long to believe again. At least for the few moments the preacher has their attention. It is an opportunity to speak a gracious word of truth to the “cultured despisers” and the “untamed cynics” among us in a way that, as Scalia said, they are not likely to hear anywhere else. The opportunity to proclaim the resurrection of the body to ones who are “infatuated with youth” or who think only in terms of some form of natural “immortality of the soul” should not be squandered with pious platitudes.

Trends and Issues

We move now to consider briefly some emerging trends in funerals that will impact the church’s ministry. Funeral customs vary from region to region across the United States and obviously from culture to culture. The pastor must be sensitive to regional traditions, while seeking over time to reshape the customs and expectations of the funeral service.

The vast majority of the funerals I attend are held in the sanctuary of the church where I worship. That is not the case in many other communities. To some degree it reflects the ethos of this particular community (Bible-belt South), but it also reflects expectations in the congregation that have been carefully nurtured over the years. 

Yet even in Greenville, South Carolina, funeral customs are changing in ways that pose serious challenges to the church. In a study of the history of funeral customs and contemporary trends, Tom Long notes how swiftly and dramatically “a significant segment of North American Christians have over the last fifty years abandoned centuries of funeral traditions in favor of an entirely new pattern of memorializing the dead.”[18]

The emerging pattern for funerals is still quite fluid. Long notes that the new funeral “rituals,” (if they can be called “rituals”) are marked by “variations, improvisa-tions, and personal customizations.” While there is a great variety of emerging customs, there is general consensus around certain elements that include:

1) “a memorial service” in which the emphasis is on remembering the deceased, often in very personal ways and often without the body or ashes being present; 2) a brief, simple, highly personalized, and sometimes improvised service, often involving a number of speakers other than or without clergy; 3) a focus on the life and life-style of the deceased complete with mementoes of that life-style; 4) a celebration of life marked more by joy than solemnity; 5) a private service of committal prior to the memorial service; and 6) an increasing preference for cremation (now approximately 30% nationwide and over 50% in many western states.[19]

Three additional trends in contemporary funerals merit consideration: 1) the trend toward “designer funerals” that reflect the life-style of the deceased more than the life of the Christian community; 2) the replacement of the sermon by a video tribute to the deceased; and 3) memorial services in which no body or representation of the body is present and which seek to offer a celebration of life not a confrontation with Death.

In an article in the New York Times, John Leland describes the trend toward “designer funerals” orchestrated with the help of funeral concierge services. Leland says,

As members of the baby boom generation plan their final services for their parents or themselves, they bring new consumer expectations and fewer attachments to church, traditions, or organ music, forcing funeral directors to be more like party planners, and inviting some party planners to test the farewell waters.[20]

A number of funeral homes now offer elaborate videos of the life of the deceased. While video tributes may serve well to remind the gathered community of the particular life of the deceased, they do not serve well to communicate the faith of the Christian community which comes “not from what is seen but from what is heard.” In the years ahead there will likely be increased pressure to substitute videos for the funeral sermon. The better funeral homes get at producing slick, upbeat video eulogies, the greater will be the pressure to eliminate the funeral sermon all together … and then at least some, if not all, of the scripture readings … and then the body itself … and in time, of course, the clergy.

We have already moved a long way toward eliminating the body. For good reasons most churches require that the casket remain closed. The reaction against an over-emphasis on the “embalmer’s art” is theologically warranted. But the less the actual body or ashes of the deceased are present in the service, the greater is the danger of a disparagement of created bodily, physical life. 

The poet, essayist, and undertaker Thomas Lynch, from his perspective as a funeral home director, insists that, “We deal with death by dealing with the dead, not just the idea but also the sad and actual fact of the matter––the dead body.”[21] But Mark Duffey of Houston, who claims to have developed the first nationwide funeral concierge service, speaks for many of his generation when he says bluntly,

The body’s a downer, especially for boomers. If the body doesn’t have to be there, it frees us to do what we want. They may want to have it (the funeral) in a country club or bar or their favorite restaurant. That’s where consumers want to go.[22]

The stark contrast between the perspectives of Lynch and Duffy makes clear one of the major challenges before the church. For those who believe in the incarnation of the Son of God and in the resurrection of the body, the body is not a “downer.” It is the ensouled material reality created by God and redeemed from death for eternal communion with the living God. In the final resurrection of the body, we are given a new embodiment appropriate for life in God’s New Creation. How we deal with bodies is at the heart of Christian morality. Pastors who conduct a significant number of services involving cremation need to give serious thought as to how to appropriately “honor the body” when no body is present.

A Presbyterian pastor was visiting an elderly relative of hers when the woman died. The hospice attendant asked if she would like to help “prepare the body.” She said she would. The pastor describes what a moving experience it was as they washed the body together. As they washed the feet of the deceased, the hospice attendant invited the pastor to imagine the places the woman’s feet had taken her on her many travels. As they washed her mid-section, she invited the pastor to think of the children and grandchildren she had held on her lap. As they washed her arms, she invited her to remember those whom the deceased had held in her arms. As they lovingly prepared the body for cremation, they remembered and rehearsed the life of the deceased in a way that truly honored the body. Few of us could or would do it that way, but all of us are challenged to find appropriate ways to honor the body of the deceased, especially when cremation is the option chosen.

The Christian faith does not offer a disembodied hope that seeks to deny the reality and sting of death. It is ruthlessly honest about the power and threat of death, and so must we be. There is nothing within us that “naturally” escapes death. “God alone has immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16). Excessively upbeat funerals at a club or restaurant are merely another form of our persistent denial of death. Viewing the bereaved as “consumers” reveals the widespread assumption in our culture that we are autonomous individuals called and claimed and answerable to no one but ourselves. All this the church must challenge in the name of the living God, the Creator and Redeemer of bodies made for eternal communion. Ministers do not wish to be thought gloomy and somber, but someone in our society has to challenge the lie of Death, not with “cheers” and warm remembrances, but with the proclaimed reality of God’s victory over “the last enemy” in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and ours in him.

In the years ahead pastors and congregations will be challenged to find an appropriate balance between the expectation that the funeral service celebrate the life of the deceased and the imperative of the Christian faith that the service focus on the “Author and Finisher of our salvation.” Well thought-out, well-crafted funeral services and sermons done with theological integrity and pastoral kindness can serve as our final act of respect to the deceased and our best witness to the victory of the Lord of Life over “the last enemy,” Death itself.

An earlier version of this essay appeared in The Power To Contemplate With All The Saints: The Formation and Practice of a Pastor-Theologian, ed. Wallace M. Alston, Jr. and Cynthia A. Jarvis(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009).   Used with permission from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

The Reverend Allen C. McSween, Jr., is pastor emeritus of Fourth Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), Greenville, South Carolina.

[1] John H. Leith, “The Message of Christian Faith on the Occasion of the Burial of the Dead,” Journal for Preachers, Lent 1983, 20.

[2] Ibid, 21.

[3] Joseph Bottum, “Death and Politics,” First Things, June/July 2007, 18–19, 27.

[4] Quoted in Stanley Hall, “Renewing the Rites of Death,” Insights: A Journal of the Faculty of Austin Seminary, Fall 1994, 49.

 [5] Letter from Justice Antonin Scalia to Dr. James C. Goodloe IV, September 1, 1998.

[6] In this article I capitalize Death when speaking of Death as a spiritual power and use lower case for death as a biological fact.                  

[7] Thomas C. Oden, Life in the Spirit: Systematic Theology vol. 3 (Harper: San Francisco, 1994), 379.

[8] Alan Lewis, “The Theology of Death and the Care of the Dying: Affirmations, Attitudes and Actions,”Insights: A Journal of the Faculty of Austin Seminary, Fall 1994, 10. Hereafter cited, “The Theology of Death.”

[9] Alan Lewis, “The Theology of Death,” 11. See also This Incomplete One: Words Occasioned by the Death of a Young Person, ed. Michael D. Bush (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006) for a very helpful collection of sermons by outstanding pastor–theologians on the death of a child or young person. Included are Karl Barth’s sermon on the death of his son Matthias, and William Sloane Coffin’s classic sermon “Alex’s Death”). Michael himself died much too soon.

[10] Alan Lewis,  “The Theology of Death,” 12.

[11] Thomas G. Long, “Telling the Truth about Death and Life: Preaching at Funerals,” Journal for Preachers, Easter 1997, 4-5. (See also Long’s The Christian Funeral: Accompany Them With Singing (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009).

[12] Jürgen Moltmann, “Is There Life After Death?” The End of the World and the Ends of God, ed. John Polkinghorne and Michael Welker (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2000), 239.

[13] Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Dirge Without Music.”

[14] Thomas G. Long, “Telling the Truth about Death and Life: Preaching at Funerals,”5.    

[15] In addition to the article by Jürgen Moltmann, see in particular N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope and his massive work, The Resurrection of the Son of God.

[16] Moltmann, 238-255.

[17] William H. Willimon, Worship as Pastoral Care (Nashville: Abingdon, 1979), 111.

[18] Thomas G. Long, “Whatever Happened to the Funeral?” The Cresset: A Journal of Literature, the Arts, and Public Affairs, Lent 2005, 12.

 [19] Ibid.

 [20]John Leland, “It’s My Funeral and I’ll Serve Ice Cream if I Want To,” The New York Times,, 2006.

[21] Thomas Lynch, “Good Grief: An Undertaker’s  Reflections,” Christian Century, July 26, 2003, 21.

 [22] Ibid.


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