I’ve attended a lot of funerals in the past few years. I’ve come to appreciate the truth expressed by the preacher in Ecclesiastes 7:2: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.”
A Christian funeral is a good time to be reminded of truths that matter: that Jesus has conquered death, and that believers have resurrection hope. I’m concerned, though, by how often these truths are either distorted or not mentioned at all.
The Importance of Resurrection Hope
We need resurrection hope. In passages like Isaiah 26:19, Daniel 12:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-16 and more, we’re taught the truth of the resurrection. Christ “is not content with the redemption of the soul, but effects also the redemption of the body,” observes Herman Bavinck. Jesus is the firstfruits; believers will be resurrected when Jesus returns. Our future is physical and involves transformed bodies, a new heaven and new earth, and more.
“Take away the resurrection, and what remains of the gospel?” Spurgeon asked. “The resurrection of Christ, and the consequent resurrection of his people, is the keystone of the arch of the Christian system; and if that be removed as a myth the whole building falls.”
Old funeral liturgies capture this truths for good reason. It’s hard to beat the words of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: “Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed: we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.”
Clear, compelling, and comforting. We need resurrection hope always, but especially in the face of death.
I’m disturbed and baffled when I don’t hear about the resurrection at funerals. I often hear about the believer being present with the Lord, which is a comforting truth (2 Corinthians 5:6), but not our ultimate hope. Paul compares the intermediate state — when our disembodies souls are with Jesus — to being naked, longing to be clothed (2 Corinthians 5:3-4). The resurrection, not the intermediate state, is meant to be our ultimate hope.
I’ve even heard a pastor speak of the resurrection as a present reality that the recently departed has already experienced, ignoring that the resurrection of the dead follows the appearance of Christ. Paul cautions Timothy about those who teach that the resurrection has already happened (2 Timothy 2:18).
Believers — even pastors — seem shaky on the details of the resurrection. But this isn’t advanced theology. Every pastor, every believer, should understand this truth, believe it, and derive comfort and hope from it. Every Christian should major in resurrection hope.
Every pastor, every believer, should understand this truth, believe it, and derive comfort and hope from it. Every Christian should major in resurrection hope.
Raising the Resurrection
“Teaching the Final Resurrection ‘passed away’ long ago in most evangelical circles,” observes Trevin Wax. “Whenever we mention rising from the dead, we almost always reference Jesus’ resurrection. Sadly, we forget the link that connects Jesus’ rising to our own.”
It’s time to change this. It’s time to teach and preach clearly about our future resurrection, not only at funerals, but especially then.
Pastors: please give your people resurrection hope. Please speak about our future resurrection clearly and often. And let’s never settle for a funeral that ignores this truth, that speaks of the intermediate state as our ultimate hope, or that speaks of the present resurrection for the believer. Let’s never settle for anything less than our future, bodily resurrection, because it’s the truth we need to hear when facing death.