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  • James Pate

Funerals and faith

I was once asked to take a funeral for someone who was not a believer. The family made it clear that they were not asking for a Christian funeral. They were looking for a service with no prayers or hymns. They wanted me because they had seen me lead a funeral and they liked the way I had done it. But the person who died was not a believer, and they were atheists, so religion was off limits.


I negotiated a compromise, in which I would take a few minutes to explain what I believe. We agreed the order of service.


It was all going smoothly until we reached the committal. This is the point in the service where we formally 'commit' the body of the person who has died to be buried or cremated. I got to the bit about 'earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust ...' and I stopped. No mention of the hope of the resurrection to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. I don't think anyone else noticed, but a shiver went up my spine. I felt sad for the words I had agreed not to say,  but profoundly grateful for the hope I know.


It reminded me of the first time I spoke the words of committal as a trainee minister. I had assisted at a couple of funerals and the minister who was supporting me told me I was ready to lead the service, not just to be a helper. It was a burial on a freezing cold day, and the ground was covered with snow. I was nervous and producing maybe too much adrenaline, so much so that I did not register how cold I was. 


The funeral went well, but on the way home on the train I started to shake. I made it home, but I then had to take a couple of days off to recover. I did not make that mistake twice. If it's cold I wear a coat.


I remember being at that graveside and speaking those words, 'in the hope of the resurrection to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.'  On that freezing cold day, faith rose up in me. I felt an amazing sense of privilege. I still do, every time I say those words. 


March 31st is Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.* It's not just about his resurrection; it's about ours. it's about death losing its sting and the grave losing its victory. It's about death leading us to be with Christ, which is better by far. It's about us not grieving like those who have no hope. It's about Jesus, the resurrection and the life.


I'm glad I'm not an atheist.


In his love







* ​We celebrate the resurrection every Sunday, but you know what I mean.



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