Funeral

Here's What Happened on the Day of My Funeral

No event in my life has proven to be of more lasting significance than my funeral. I remember it well. The church, the pastor, my family, but especially the grave. Some say that I should live like I'm dying, as if that's the secret to a happy life. But that won't do for me. I will not, I cannot, live like I'm dying because I've already died. I've had my funeral.

I was young, but no so young that I can't recall the particulars. I was robed in white, like the martyrs. There were steps going down, down into the grave. It was wet, the water in the tomb cold as it slowly enveloped my body. The pastor put a hand over my mouth, another between my shoulder blades, and backward I fell into the dark waters, buried beneath Noah's flood, the Red Sea, Jordan's stream, all the way down into a borrowed tomb outside Jerusalem where a crucified man lay waiting for me. I opened my eyes under the water and beheld him. He was reaching for me. He took my hand.

He spoke, "Chad, do you know where you are?" I said, "Sir, you know." And he smiled as no man has ever smiled. Then he said to me, "Arise."

The surface of the grave exploded. Water rippling like an earthquake around me. Angels winged their way around the sanctuary, belting out Alleluias. Smoke was filling the church from the incense of the saints. God above was splitting the veil twixt heaven and earth to say, "This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased."

I opened my eyes to a funeral gone bad. Or rather, gone good. For I had died, been buried, and now stood alive for the first time in my life on the Easter side of Good Friday, wearing the skin of God's Son, feeling the beat of his blood pumping in my heart, the breath of his Spirit in my lungs. I was a living man. I was past death. I was now in Christ.

Since my watery funeral, when I died to sin and rose in Christ, I do not live like I'm dying. I live as one who has already died and whose life is hidden with Christ in God.

What is baptism? It is this.

Please Don’t Say These Six Things at My Funeral

There will come a day, perhaps sooner, perhaps later, when the man in the coffin will be me. They say the dead don’t care, but I’m not dead yet, so as long as I’m still alive, I’d like to have some say in what goes on at my funeral. And, truth be told, I think the dead do care. Not that they will be privy to the details of what happens at their own funerals, but they still care about the world, about their family, about the church. The saints in heaven continue to pray for those who are still on their earthly pilgrimage, so how could they not care about them?

Because I do care now, and will care even after I’m with the Lord, here are some things I hope and pray are not said at my funeral. I care about those who will be there, about what they will hear. I want the truth to be spoken, the truth about sin, the truth about death, and, above all, the truth about the love of God in Jesus Christ.

So, please don’t say…

1. He was a good man. Don’t turn my funeral into a celebration of my moral resume. For one thing, I don’t have one. I’m guilty of far more immoral acts than moral ones. Secondly, even if I were the male equivalent of Mother Teresa, don’t eulogize me. Talk about the goodness of the Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps us in the true faith. Talk about our good Father who’s made us all His children in baptism. Talk about the good Husband that Christ is to His bride, the church. Don’t say, “He was a good man,” but “our good God loved this sinful man.”

2. Chad...Chad...Chad. I don’t want to be the focus of my own funeral. I was not the center of the liturgy on Sunday mornings, so why should it be any different during my funeral liturgy? If anyone’s name comes up over and over, let it be the name that is above every name—Jesus. He is the one who has conquered death. He is the one in whose arms I will have died. He is the one, the only one, who gives hope to the bereaved. Let me decrease that Christ may increase.

3. God now has another angel. Heaven is not going to de-humanize me. In fact, once I am resurrected on the last day, I will be more human than ever before, for my human soul and human body will finally be in a glorified state that’s free of sin. People don’t become angels in heaven any more than they become gods or trees or puppies. The creature we are now, we shall be forever. God has enough angels already. All He wants is more of His children in the place Jesus has prepared for them.

4. We are not here to mourn Chad’s death, but to celebrate his life. So-called “Celebrations of Life” (which I have written against in "The Tragic Death of the Funeral") do a disservice to the mourners for they deny or euphemize death. The gift of life cannot fully be embraced if we disregard the reality of death, along with sin, its ultimate cause. Whatever the apparent reason for my decease may be—a sickness, accident, or old age—the real reason is because I was conceived and born in sin, and I built atop that sinful nature a mountain’s worth of actual sins. The only person’s life to celebrate at a funeral is the Savior conceived of the virgin Mary, who became our sin on the cursed tree that we might become His righteousness in the blessed font, who buried sin and death in the empty tomb He left behind on Easter morning.

5. Chad would not want us to weep. When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Those tears betoken a God who’s fully human, who experienced the sadness and grief we all do at the death of those we love. To cry is not to deny that our friend or family member is with the Lord, but to acknowledge that in this vale of tears there is still death, still loss, still suffering. I do want those who mourn my death to weep, not for my sake, but for their own, for it is an integral part of the healing process. But while they weep, let them remember that in the new heavens and new earth, God “shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain,” (Revelation 21:4).

6. What’s in that coffin is just the shell of Chad. What’s in that coffin is the body that was fearfully and wonderfully made when our Father wove me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14). What’s in that coffin is the body that Jesus baptized into His own body to make me part of Him. What’s in that coffin is the body that ate the saving body of Jesus, and drank His forgiving blood in the Supper, that I might consume the medicine of immortality. And what’s in that coffin is the body that, when the last trumpet shall sound, will burst from my grave as a body glorified and ready to be reunited with my soul. My body is God’s creation, an essential part of my identity as a human being. It is not a shell. It is God’s gift to me. And one day I’ll get it back, alive, restored, perfected to be like the resurrected body of Jesus.

Of course, there’s always more that could be added to this list—and perhaps you’d like to add more in the comments below—but I believe these get the point across. I want the beginning of my funeral to be focused on Jesus, as well as the middle, as well as the end, as well as every point in between. I care about those who will attend. Let them hear the good news, especially in the context of this sobering reminder of mortality, that neither death, nor life, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord, for He is the resurrection and the life.
**Here is a short YouTube video in which I talk about death, so-called "natural death," the hope we have in the resurrection of Christ.

What is That in My Casket?

Let’s break the rules of reality for a moment, and imagine that I can attend my own funeral. I’m present as mourner and mourned, dead and alive. Were I to stand alongside my casket, and speak to others of what lies in that box of mortality, how might I describe it? Shall I gesture toward the 6’ 2”, brown-haired, blue-eyed cold and lifeless corpse and say, “My friends, that is body of Chad Bird inside the coffin”? Or, shall I get a bit wordy, and elaborate on what this thing is that’s filling up the casket, by saying, “That is the empty shell that Chad inhabited while in this life, but, being in a better place now, he needs that hollow husk no more”? What should I say?

If the roles were reversed, and you stood alongside your own coffin, tell me, what words would you choose?

Here’s why it’s important: the answer to “What lies in my casket?” also reveals the answer to “What kind of Christianity lies within my heart?” What we confess concerning a corpse confesses much about how deep, or how shallow, is our understanding of the importance of the incarnation of Jesus, his death, and his (as well as our own) resurrection.

There is nothing bad or unspiritual about your body. When the Lord wove you together within your mother’s womb, he didn’t take a pure, clean soul and encase it within an impure, inferior hunk of flesh. He created you a complete person of body and soul, no part superior or inferior to the other, no part more or less spiritual than the other. Similarly, when the Son of God came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary—when God became man—he became what we are: a full human being, body and soul. He assumed all that we are, in order that all that we are, he might redeem. God was not ashamed to assume our human nature. It was not somehow beneath him. Willingly and lovingly, he became one of us. And he remains one of us. God too has a human body.

Not only is there nothing bad or unspiritual about your body; there is also nothing temporary about it. Yes, because there is sin in the world, and sin produces death, your body will one day die an earthly death. Your body and soul will separate—your body will remain on earth, your soul go to be with Christ to await the resurrection. But while this separation of body and soul is temporary, your body is not. At his return, on the last day, Christ will reunite your soul to your body, raise and glorify your body, make your body like his own. In other words, you will be Eastered by Jesus. He will do for you and to you what he has already done himself on the day of his resurrection. The body conceived within the virgin, the body that grew into that of a man, the body that ate and drank and suffered and died—that flesh and blood body of Jesus was made alive on Easter day. And when Jesus, in that selfsame body returns to claim you as his own, he will make you to be as he is.

As true as it is that when believers die, they go to be with Jesus in heaven, sometimes I fear we talk too much about that and not nearly enough about the resurrection of the body. The end goal of the Christian faith is not merely to go to heaven, but for Jesus to resurrect our bodies so that, as a whole person, body and soul, perfected and glorified, we might spend eternity with him. That is our true and final hope: the full experience of Christ’s Easter victory in our own bodies.

So what is that in your casket? It is not an empty shell or a hollow husk. To speak that way is to insult the Creator, to disparage the incarnation of Jesus, and to ignore or even deny the coming reunion of body and soul in the resurrection. What is in that casket is the body that God the Father created; a body that God baptized into Jesus’ own body; a body that should be treated with respect; a body that will lay in wait for the last day; a body that will be reformed and glorified on the day it is rejoined to your soul.