A funeral marks the close of a human life on earth. It is the opportunity for friends and family to express their grief, to give thanks for the life which has now completed its journey in this world and to commend the person into God’s keeping.  As far back into history as we can penetrate, human beings seem to have felt the need for a ceremonial leave-taking of those who have died.

The funeral service of the Anglican Church of Australia can be very short and quiet with only a few members of the family present or an occasion of great solemnity with music, hymns and a church full of people.  Whatever the pattern of service, the words and actions all speak of a loving God and the preciousness to Him of every human being.

Questions of life and death

The funeral service will reflect the personality of the one who has died and the circumstances of their death. Feelings of grief, gratitude, joy and sadness often intermingle.

Funeral services always raise profound questions about the meaning of life and death. Jesus himself believed in a life-giving God: ‘the God of the living, not of the dead.’ Christians believe that Christ’s resurrection is the triumph of good over evil and of life over death and has made eternal life available to us.

What heaven is like, none of us dare say too precisely, but we know that we shall delight in the presence and love of God and of the whole company of heaven. Whatever is wonderful about life here on earth is only a glimpse of the glory of the life that is to come.

Funerals at St Mark’s

At St Mark’s we regard the taking of funerals as an important part of our ministry. We spend time visiting families, comforting those who are facing loss, finding out what service they want to use and helping them to arrange it.

The funeral director also plays a very important part in arrangements.  After a death has taken place, the initial contact is usually with one of the local firms of funeral directors. You will find a comprehensive list in the Yellow Pages.

The funeral director will meet with the family of the deceased and will want to know if the funeral is to be in church or at the crematorium (or both); also whether a cremation or a burial is required.  They will make arrangements with the Rector and book the church and/or crematorium.  The Rector or other clergyperson will then visit the family and help them decide on the order of service for the funeral.

The funeral service

The service begins with the priest or other minister reading aloud such reassuring sentences from the scriptures as: ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ says the Lord; ‘those who believe in me, even though they die, shall live’.  A psalm – often The Lord is My Shepherd – may follow and a lesson or lessons are read telling of God’s care and of the hope of eternal life.  At this point, there will usually be an address or a sermon remembering the life and work of the deceased and the great Christian beliefs about life beyond death.  Some families want to show a slide presentation. This can aid reflection on the person’s life. Prayers will be offered, giving thanks for the life of the deceased and praying for those who grieve.

The committal is a particularly solemn moment of the funeral service. It takes place either at the graveside, or in the crematorium chapel, or in church before the hearse leaves for the crematorium.

In the cemetery, the family will gather round the open grave into which the coffin is lowered and they will hear the words: ‘We therefore commit his (or her) body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life.’ Handfuls of earth are then scattered on the coffin.

In a crematorium, the words of committal may be accompanied by the closing of a curtain to hide the coffin from view or the coffin is moved slowly out of sight.

The committal can be a very emotional moment. Many who are suffering grief find that, even in their sadness, the words of prayer can lift them towards the experience of Christian rejoicing in the knowledge of life beyond death.  The offering of prayer and the trust that the person is in God’s safe hands can begin the process of healing the grief of loss.

After the funeral

People who have lost someone close to them are often so busy with practical details and arrangements between the death and the funeral that they do not experience the full sense of their loss until later.

Grieving is a natural and important part of coming to terms with and healing this loss and it may continue for several months. If the clergy are asked, they will try to help. Comfort is also to be found in the promises of Jesus Christ, in the hope of the Resurrection and in the belief that the beloved person is safe in the hands of God.

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