Tom Long, well-known American Presbyterian preacher and professor, decided more than a decade ago that it was time to do a state of the art book on the Christian funeral. “What I did not anticipate discovering,” he confesses, “that the reigning understanding of the ‘state of the art’ funeral, which I shared along with many of my colleagues in ministry, was theologically impoverished and that examining the history, theology and practice of Christian funerals would dramatically redefine what I consider to be a ‘good’ funeral” (xiv). So Tom Long in his new book, Accompany Them with Singing–The Christian Funeral
, and one that all pastors will want to read.
It’s not often we begin our day talking about funerals, but pastors often begin days knowing that funerals are in their plans. So today we need to begin our discussion with questions and just a taste of what Long will offer us.
What’s the purpose of a Christian funeral? What are the most important elements? And what have pastors learned about funerals that needs to be emphasized? What are the mistakes “not to make”? What makes a good Christian funeral?
Long opens up with three ideas that are part of the good Christian funeral: simplicity, majesty and the Christian community. Then observes that funerals have shifted from the deceased’s part in the gospel story to the grieved … funerals have become too individualistic, too narcissistic, psychological, shallow, spiritualized and disembodied and too much about spirituality and not enough about resurrection. Too much memorial and not enough eschatology; not enough embodiedness.
I read the whole book; it’s got a great sketch of the history of funerals; the importance of dramatizing the gospel at the funeral; pastoral sensitivity on every page; and the ingredients of a good Christian funeral.
Four necessary elements:
Eight purposes: kerygmatic, oblational, ecclesial, therapeutic, eucharistic, commemorative, missional, and educational.