26 years ago today my biological paternal grandfather passed away. I was 15. That was the most difficult time I've had with grief. I had been fine all the way through the funeral up until they closed the casket in front of us all, and then I lost it. Only as of 5 years ago have all my remaining grandparents passed away, but there was something unique about that time which I still remember.
My great-uncle Dave Breese was always the family speaker at life events on that side of the family. He preached the message at my biological father's funeral in 1979. He officiated my cousin's wedding. He preached at the passing of his brother-in-law, my grandfather, in 1992. I don't remember his message, but I remember something he said afterwards at the reception: “There's no better time to preach the Gospel than at a funeral.”
I agree with that because when are people more ready to think about what happens after death than when they are faced with death?
In the wake of the funeral for Senator John McCain this summer, Christianity Today recycled a 5-year-old interview with Stuart Briscoe. They didn't ask him how good of a place a funeral is for preaching the Gospel, but even if it is at all: “is a funeral the place to share the gospel with the grieving?” He responded:
I'm very uncomfortable when people come to me and talk about the funeral as a "wonderful opportunity for the gospel." "Boy, what a crowd we've got in here! Give 'em a real evangelistic message, Stuart!" I always say to them as good as it is, this is not an evangelistic service. This is a funeral. With that said, our hope is in the Lord, and so of course it's all about him and his work. Fine.
Remember, a funeral is not primarily about the deceased. A funeral is for the living. The deceased are in good shape if they're right with the Lord. Obviously we eulogize them. Obviously we talk about them and we thank God for them. But the issue is all the people who are there, who are remembering, who are grieving.
We're all about honoring the Lord in this situation. This means that we speak about his salvation. It does not mean that we give a rousing altar call "while every head is bowed and every eye is closed slip up your arm if you're going to say this prayer." That's not me. I think it's a misstep.I think the misstep is missing the opportunity any service can offer for being an evangelistic message. He can set up the straw man by portraying it as an altar call, but that's not required in order for the message to be a real opportunity to share the Gospel.
What if every service of all types could be evangelistic? I've been to a wedding before where the officiant noted that while unusual, the couple had specifically asked him to be evangelistic for the guests in his message. Would Briscoe be uncomfortable with that because “this is not” a wedding, and it's about the couple?
Perhaps we could expand our vision of what services could be about. All of this life is ultimately about being ready for the next life no matter what life events one is in or has crossed.