I recently attended a “Celebration of Life” service. While I appreciated many of the thoughts that were shared by those who knew and loved the deceased, when the pastor spoke something seemed amiss. I could tell that he had prepared for his part, and I always appreciate that, but there was something that I couldn’t put my finger on. Yes, I did think he was too folksy and informal, at a time when I think we really do need to speak as we are speaking the utterances of God (1 Peter 4:11). Yes, I was dismayed when he told those in the audience that receiving forgiveness of sins and salvation was simply a matter of saying a few words (I’ve been guilty of that myself) without further explanation, without a call to repentance and discipleship. However, there was something else bothering me that I couldn’t identity.
Then, later in the day as I was sharing my experience with Vickie it hit me – there had been no Scripture reading. The pastor may have quoted a verse or two, and others who spoke previous to the pastor quoted and read a few verses, but the pastor’s message did not have Bible reading and it was not grounded in a Biblical passage.
Knowing the reputation of the church where this took place, I know that the pastor believes the Bible, I know from his comments that he believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Of all the times when people gather together to hear the words of a pastor, the time of death and grief is the time when there needs to be a clear reading of Scripture about the matter of life and death and eternity and resurrection. People need to hear what God says about life and death, they need to hear 1 Corinthians 15:3ff or its equivalents, they need to hear God’s words of comfort and truth – while we may mingle our words of comfort as well, our words are never a substitute for God’s Word.
My words are not transcendent, and as sacramental and incarnational as my thinking is, I know that unless my words and actions are wrapped in Scripture that they never get off the ground – I want to be reminded that my calling is to deliver the Word of God to others and that it is His Word which will not return void (Isaiah 55).
Sadly, it seems that more and more churches which profess to believe the Bible give little actual time to the Bible in public worship. Funerals are a time when we have a mixed audience; those who know Christ, those who think they know Christ, and those who for a few minutes are in a place where perhaps they will hear the Word of God read and come to meet Christ - where perhaps a seed will be planted, where perhaps they will come to know Jesus Christ. The Word of God must increase, but I must decrease.