I've spent some of this week asking myself the question 'Who are funerals for?' In truth I have quizzed myself on this topic before - I was simply reflecting on it again because of the prominence of this rite pf passage amongst us this week.
There's no doubt that the service is to honour and celebrate the departed. We are there to remember that person - if we can, in a spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude. Funerals become so much better when some thing of the one we are commending to God shines through making the service more personal and intimate.
Yet funerals are also most certainly for the living. In our corporate grief we offer corporate encouragement. These services can be cathartic experiences bringing both a sense of closure and hope to the bereaved.
Sometimes the balance between the departed and the living has to be worked at in the preparation for a funeral service. We cannot, for example, take it for granted that if it is for a person of faith that their relatives, left planing the liturgy, will themselves have faith or even realise its deep significance to the one we are remembering.
And in a way the service - like all acts of worship - is for God. We come to him with our grief, our prayers, our confusion and longing - and through scripture and the framework of the rite we receive his comfort and hope - yet all of this is done as an offering of worship presented to God with faltering, hesitant yet real trust in our hearts.
At funeral services us ministers cannot answer all the questions we may have about why someone we are grieving for lost their battle with cancer or suffered a cruel accident - but we can speak of a loving and compassionate God who suffers alongside and travels the road with us. This is the hope we proclaim at every funeral service - Jesus, the resurrection and the life.
This week as I recall two friends now in God's nearer presence my prayer for them is 'May they rest in peace and rise in glory.'