I’ve heard pastors say that if people really knew what was in their hearts, they would not want them as their pastor. I can attest that pastors sin with the best of them. Lust and greed and envy and all sorts of sin roam dangerously in their hearts.
Pastors don’t minister on the basis of a sinless self. They minister on the basis of a sinless Christ. The concept of the book, When Sinners Say “I Do,” applies to the pastor-sheep relationship as well, a sinner among sinners.
I am painfully aware of the inclinations of my heart. I know how the word of God I preach has beamed a spotlight into my soul, exposing my sin, making me wonder, who am I to be calling others to account? Paul writes my biography in Romans 7. I find great solace in his summation: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24–25)
For reason of sin, I wanted no funeral. I didn’t want people standing up to testify to what a great guy Stan was. “He served Christ so faithfully, for so many years.” “What an example of a godly man!” If only they knew. If they saw the laziness and self-centeredness and waywardness and mixed motives and mean-spirited thoughts, their accolades would be silenced.
I didn’t want hagiography. I didn’t want people testifying to a man they thought they knew, extolling virtues that would be dwarfed by vices. Not having a funeral would avoid a sideshow.
But I have changed my mind—for two reasons. One, a friend died. The family decided not to have a funeral, nothing to acknowledge him or his death. At first I took it in stride, but then it occurred to me that something was not right with that. In not acknowledging his death, they did not acknowledge his life. It was like the life that God had given him, with its achievements and relationships and journey, never happened. But it did, and it should have been celebrated to recognize the life God had given him from his mother’s womb and the days He had ordained for him. Grief would have been creased with a smile. Emptiness filled with substance.
A funeral celebrates the life of an image-bearer of God. It declares death to be an enemy, evil that splits apart families and cuts deep in hearts. I would be short-changing the gift of life and living that God gave me were I not to have a funeral.
The other reason I changed my mind about a funeral has to do with the gospel that bears on my calling as a pastor. My righteousness is not in my apparent clean living. My hope is not in my efforts. The gospel points me to Christ, and that is exactly where I would want my funeral to point others.
A pastor is not a super-saint, less in need of Christ than the person in the pew or the customer in the house of the rising sun. An understanding of the gospel will bring others to repent not only of their sin but of their righteousness, that Jesus Christ might be preeminent. In confronting the ugliness of death, people need to see God’s answer. Death is natural in evolutionary thought, but in the Bible’s view it is unnatural, unwelcome and unsavory. It is an intruder, a usurper, and God has provided victory in Christ—resurrection victory, victory over sin, death and the grave.
A funeral brings that perspective to bear. It says, “In your face, death. For the one in Christ, nothing can separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus—not even you.”
People need to pause on the treadmill of life and take stock of their portfolio of hope. Is it a “hope so” hope or a “know so” hope that is a confident expectation, an assured conviction, a vibrant certainty that rests only and fully on the accomplished work of Jesus Christ? Funerals provide that pause button. Funerals press that question.
So, my funeral is back on. I still don’t want anything fancy (i.e., expensive). But I do want people to celebrate the life God gave me and to hear about the eternal life He gave me in Jesus, and that this escape from the enemy of death can be theirs as well by faith in Him.