In the last commentary, I argued that a Christian minister ought not to officiate at wedding ceremonies for unbelievers. These weddings, I argued, represent the trivialization of the Christian ministry and a loss of pastoral courage. Since then, I’ve received lots of queries about funerals. Should a Christian minister preach the funeral of an unbeliever? That’s a very good question.
Some of the saddest moments of my ministry have been in funeral homes, preaching for people I didn’t know. Early on in ministry, I became the “go to” minister for a local mortician when one of his deceased passed away with no religious affiliation. I’ve seen almost empty chapels, with no one to do the eulogy but me. And I’ve seen full chapels of family members who clearly hated the deceased. I had one deceased woman’s daughter tell me there was nothing positive she could think to say about her mother, nothing at all, except that she did feed the birds in her backyard.
Do I think it was biblically acceptable to preach those funerals? Yes. Would I do it again today? Yes.
A funeral is an entirely different matter than a wedding. A wedding is about the near future (near meaning the next thirty to seventy years or so). A funeral is about the past, and about the ultimate future (the resurrection from the dead). A wedding is the witnessing of vows, the calling together of a covenant between two persons. A funeral doesn’t call any reality together. It commits the body of the dead to the earth and awaits the resurrection of both the just and the unjust.