Preparing a funeral sermon is one of the more difficult and rewarding challenges of ministry. When a family invites you to preside over a funeral or memorial service, it is a wonderful honor. Being invited into a family's home at their time of deep grief demonstrates great trust and an intimate connection. If you handle funerals with grace and care, you will build deep and lasting friendships with those in your care.
Meet with the family to listen. Funerals are communal attempts to remember and grieve a life. Show up with a listening posture rather than a "ministering" posture. Instead of thinking about what you can say, think about the questions you can ask.
Ask questions about the deceased's life, preferences, joys, faults and sense of humor. Do this in a natural way. Often, if you are present to listen, these stories will start coming out, and you can simply sit back and give audience to the family's remembrance. At times, it is helpful to pull out a small journal and take notes on stories or memories that may be helpful in the funeral service.
Gather information about favorite hymns, verses, songs and poems. These can add a personalized texture to the worship service. The worship service should have elements of both lament and celebration, so be in tune for both.
Help the family determine roles and responsibilities for funeral service. Who will give a eulogy? Is there a family member who might provide a reading? Have they determined pall bearers? All of these details are things grieving family members might need help remembering.
Choose a funeral passage that fits the life of the deceased. Search for a metaphor or sense of tone to the life of the person. Match the life with a fitting passage that can help the family move from grief to hope. "I do not want you to grieve as those without hope" from the letter to the Thessalonians can be appropriate for a well-lived, faith-filled life. "Entertaining angels unaware" can be metaphorically applied to the loss of adopted children. The Psalms and Ecclesiastes often provide great comfort. Eventually you will gather a collection of funeral verses that you can turn to. Keep them in a file, and find the most appropriate one for each person. Each time, seek to let the passage speak in a new way in light of the person who has passed away.
Weave the scripture's thoughts in and out with stories of the deceased. The goal of the sermon is to preach the good news, not to eulogize the life. Sometimes however, there are moments in a person's life that preach the good news for you. Use stories that bring both tears and laughter. Both have powerful cathartic functions for grief.
Offer a benediction of hope. Don't stay immersed in melancholy feelings too long. Include messages of inspiration and celebration of the grace and mercy of God.
Become familiar with the funeral home before the service. Make sure the musicians and other participants are prepared for the unique setting. Remember that ministering to a family at death is one of the most intimate and meaningful acts of a pastor. It will endear your ministry to a family for life. Give it the time and energy it deserves. Put the date of death on your calendar, and do your best to contact the family members in the future.
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images