We are hosting a funeral today at Good Shepherd — another in a run of them recently — which serves as an occasion to remember the two most important words in designing a service that both honors the dead and comforts the living: expression and permission.
By expression I mean that those leading a funeral need to give language to emotions that the grieving family members and friends feel but cannot articulate. Preachers do that by the way they describe the person who has died and in the manner in which they convey the hope of God. One of the highest compliments I can receive after a funeral is “you were spot on in how you talked about him (or her). You must have know him well.” People in grief need language to express the depth of their emotion, and it is the preacher’s task to help them in that path.
By permission I mean that pastors need to let the community gathered for a funeral know that grief is good. Many people are under the mistaken assumption that they need to “be strong” or to “hold it in.” That’s nonsense.
When someone we love deeply dies, grief is what God gives us to get us through. I say something like at every funeral . . . because it needs to be said at every funeral. And sadly, clergy throughout the years have instead uttered trite phrases like “Don’t be sad now, your loved one is in a better place” and “Your loved wouldn’t want you to cry for them if you knew the joy in heaven they have now.”
Please. While both those statements might be in a sense true, they are not appropriate for a time of grief. We at Good Shepherd are passionate about giving Jesus’ promise in Matthew 5:4 an opportunity to impact people’s lives: “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Permission and expression. It’s why we do what we do.