It's Your Funeral

My wife has a question for me.

"What do you want for your funeral?” 

I’m tempted to be facetious, but it’s a serious question. We went to the funeral of an old acquaintance last Thursday, and next Thursday we will be attending another. The older you get, the more you have to go to, as a rule; and then, it’s your own. 

I make a few suggestions. “No, you need to write it down, in detail. I might not be there by then.” 

I certainly won’t be, so will I really care? And even if I leave detailed instructions, will anyone take any notice?

"Hatched, matched, and dispatched!” people used to remark as they looked through their local newspaper, scanning the births, marriages and deaths columns. I didn’t have much to say about my birth. What about my wedding? Although I wrote the service myself, it was not taken by our pastor, as we’d expected, since he’d developed an unfortunate case of trouble with his trousers some months earlier. Gradually, almost everything else was taken out of our hands. I remember asking my mother why we were inviting all these people that I hardly knew. She looked at me in genuine amazement. “This wedding isn’t for your benefit, you know!”

If that was the case then, when I was around, what will it be like if I’m not even present, except as a lifeless husk? 

Still, perhaps it would be worthwhile, in order to make life easier for those who are left behind. “I’ll have to sit down and think it through.” 

Days later, and I’m no nearer. It would be easier to say what I really don’t want, based on our recent experiences. Here are a few examples.

Embarrassingly awful muzak, by Phil Collins or Frank Sinatra, George Michael or Glenn Miller, Enya or Englebert - or indeed anything that anyone imagines I might have liked. I’m sure to have hated it.

Personal tributes by people who know little about me and care even less, who nevertheless feel obliged to add their “cherished memories” to “this time of celebration and reflection”.

An elaborate and expensive order of service, containing a series of photographs charting my decline into old age, sickness, and senility.

A professional funeral celebrant, paid to ease everyone through that troublesome time at the crematorium before the curtains close, as painlessly and as pointlessly as possible.

A very considerable number of mendacious reprobates who used to pass themselves off as my faithful friends and Christian brothers. Don’t even think about it. Your names are on a list and there will be bouncers on the doors.

There is much about modern funerals, especially of the determinedly secular sort, that we might find distasteful or distressing. So: what would you suggest as suitable for a funeral service for born-again believers in Jesus Christ, who would rather see the Saviour uplifted than themselves celebrated? Have you let anyone know what you would prefer? Perhaps, like me, you need to sit down and give it some thought, then write down what you want and put the information in a safe place. Plenty of time yet? Not necessarily. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” (Pr.27.1)

And, after the service, what then? I’ve always said that I would like to have my ashes taken to the Barmouth estuary, and out into the middle of the railway bridge, from where they can be scattered into the sea - provided the tide is in, of course, otherwise it will just look silly. What’s that? Christians should only ever be buried? I knew someone would say that. Well, you could throw me over wrapped in a sheet, I suppose, like a burial at sea; but it might look a little suspicious if there are any holidaymakers about.

May I commend to you the Julie Miller song, “All My Tears”, as performed by Emmylou Harris? It’s easy to find on YouTube and elsewhere. I think you’ll find it worthwhile. That’s if you're a Christian, of course. If not, may I turn you instead to John, chapter 11, verses 25-26? Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” That’s good enough for me, and far better than I could ever deserve.