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Rites of Passage: Christian Funerals
What happens at a Christian funeral?
For Christians, a funeral service is a way of saying 'thank-you' to God for the person who has died, and to celebrate their life. The funeral may take place at a church, or there is a chapel at the crematorium or cemetery where a ceremony or religious service can be held instead. It is common for people to wear dark colours to funerals as a sign of their sadness. Sometimes Christians ask people to wear bright colours, to show that even though they are sad, they are happy that their loved one is now in heaven. The service will usually include a time when friends and relatives can talk about the person who died, remembering happy times and the good things that they did.
The Bible is read
During the service people will read words from the Bible, the Christian holy book. Christians believe that God has power over life and death, and is also loving. There are words and promises in the Bible that bring comfort and hope to people who are sad at losing a loved one. One verse that is often read comes from a story about Jesus. His best friend, Lazarus, had died. Jesus said these words to Lazarus’ family as they were crying:
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies." (John 11:26)
This was Jesus’ way of saying that although people die, death is not the end of the story. Why do you think these words provide comfort to people who are sad? Another popular passage that people read comes from Psalm 23. It says:
‘The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honour to his name. Even when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.’
How does it make you feel? Why do you think people choose to use it in a funeral service?
Songs are sung
A Christian funeral usually includes a lot of songs. Like the Bible passages that are read, the songs often talk about the hope that people will live with God in heaven after they die. This one is about being with Jesus in heaven:
"When I stand in glory I will see His face / and there I'll serve my King for ever in that holy place."
("There is a Redeemer" by Melody Green)
People use symbols
Flowers are a traditional part of funeral services and are sent as a tribute to the person who has died. But they also represent new life and the beauty of the world. It helps Christians remember that God has promised a beautiful new life to his people after death. Candles are sometimes lit to remind people that Jesus is the 'Light of the World' and that because of his death people can know God's peace and forgiveness and go to heaven.
What happens next?
After the funeral service at the church or by the graveside, the coffin is buried underground and a memorial stone can be placed at the head of the grave.
In most funeral services the Minister will say,
"We commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."
In this way, people are reminded that we are all human and made by God. Cremation is when the body is burned and the ashes are then returned to the family to be scattered in a favourite place, or placed at the crematorium Garden of Remembrance, so that people have a place to visit and remember their loved one.