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Christian Funerals

A Brief Guide to The Wake The Service and the Burial Ceremony

Christian funerals differ somewhat from one denomination to another, (there are over 10,000 denominations of Christianity) and there is little direct guidance about funerals from the New Testament (or any portion) of The Bible itself. But, over the centuries, a few traditions have sprung up that seem to be more or less common to all of Christianity. Today’s Christian funerals can universally be expected to have three key components described below: the “wake,” (also known as the “visitation”), the service, and the burial ceremony.

Christian funerals differ somewhat from one denomination to anotherDuring the wake, which is generally held in the evening, a few days after the death, loved ones come and view the body of the departed. For this reason, the casket will almost always be open, unless the body has been marred in an accident or the individual suffered from a debilitating disease. In these cases, it is not uncommon for families to opt for cremation, rather than burial, especially with the rising acceptance of cremation as a dignified form of disposition. Luckily, there are a great number of religious ash urns to help showcase the lost individuals strong beliefs. This has been a part of Christian funerals since early Church history, and it allows the bereaved to say their final goodbyes to the deceased. This usually only lasts about 15 minutes and is often concluded by a minister who will lead the group in prayer. Friends of the family will sometimes bring gifts, such as flowers, food, or money to offset the cost of the funeral. In other cases, the family will encourage them to donate it to their favorite charities.

Often with Christian funerals, the service will be held within a few days of the wake, or perhaps even the next day. In most parts of the world, the casket will be closed during the service, however in America it often varies. Many Christian funerals will have familiar hymns, such as “Amazing Grace,” “Faith of Our Fathers,” and “Lead On Oh King Eternal,” followed by readings from the Bible, such as Psalm 23 or the story of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. These things remind Christians that death is not the end of the story, and also that God grants forgiveness to any who will ask for it. Protestant Christian funerals will often have eulogies during the service as well. Some Christians, sensing the sadness in the room will try to make theirs light hearted, perhaps expressing the best qualities of the departed, coupled with an endearing story of how the departed came through for them. There are no hard and fast rules here, but there is usually a general theme of going from death to the hope that the deceased will have eternal life with Jesus. The minister will usually say a few words as well, even if he did not know the departed personally, if nothing else simply based on what he has heard from the family, and offering a few words of advice to the survivors.

Many find great comfort from lifes trials in Christian beliefsThe service is usually followed by the burial ceremony. Until the last few centuries, this segment would begin when a line would form at the back door of the church with pallbearers carrying the casket out to the church grave yard. Today, a burial ceremony in Christian funerals will usually involve a limousine driving the family, and a hearse carrying the deceased to the cemetery. Once there, the minister will often read a scripture verse, such as John 11:25-26, where Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me shall not perish, but shall have eternal life.” Then he will spread ashes on the casket, and say “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This gives Christians humility as it reminds them not only reminds how fragile life is, but also to make the most of their days on earth, seeking to honor things that will last in life, such as good deeds for others, sharing faith, and contributing to the welfare of humanity, rather than perishable things, such as money, status, or physical appearance.

One final part of Christian funerals that has become a popular tradition relatively recently is the luncheon which is often held at the family’s home. No one knows exactly when this practice was started. Some believe that it was started by the primarily Catholic and Lutheran immigrants of Central and Eastern Europe during the early part of the 20th century. It certainly did not come from the Bible. It is however in line with the traditional theme of Christian funerals as they transition from death to life. After seeing the sadness of the burial, the luncheon allows for a more lighthearted time of fellowship between the family and friends of the departed as they consider better days and happy times with the deceased. A Christian may even leave the luncheon a little less sad over the loss of a loved one as he considers all of the ways that his friend helped him during the course of his life, and some of the moments where he made him laugh.

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