Death and the Service of Witness to the Resurrection
First Presbyterian Church
Kinston, N. C.
The Session commends this statement to the members of the congregation in the hope that it will be of guidance and support to them as they face the inevitability of their own deaths and the deaths of those they love.
Death is Seen in the Light of the Resurrection
The central doctrine of the Christian Faith is the resurrection. Christians affirm their common faith in their attitude toward death and in their witness during the approach and experience of death. The reality of death, with all of its attendant sorrow and sense of loss, must be anticipated for us all, and there must be created the kind of health of mind and spirit that allows Christians to live their faith in this critical area of human existence. Christians should seek to make the occasion of death a time in which they reaffirm with joy the hope of the gospel.
Christian Belief Concerning Death
In light of our Biblical and Reformed faith, we can acknowledge certain beliefs concerning death.
Death is real. We live in a culture which encourages us to deny that reality. As Christians denial is inappropriate. In scripture we find a frank and healthy acceptance of this aspect of our humanity. We are not expected to like or celebrate or even welcome death. But to deny its reality is to cut ourselves off from the greater reality of God’s power over death.
Death is inevitable. It is, for each of us, the inescapable conclusion to life as we know it. Again, scripture acknowledges this inevitability, yet still dares to embrace and affirm life.
Death creates grief. Particularly for those who lose a loved one, grief is a harrowing experience of tangible pain, sharp anxiety, helplessness and guilt and anger. Grief is a terribly human experience, of which we need not be at all ashamed. We need, rather, to support and encourage one another in dealing with an experience of grief. Since we are the Body of Christ, we do belong to one another in the Lord. It is therefore, in and through the church that we can have the most tangible experience of God’s comfort and compassion ministering to our grief.
4. Death is not the end.
a. With all Christians we believe that death has been conquered by God in Jesus Christ. Every New Testament book declares or assumes that Christ rose from the grave. “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” is not only the Easter message, it is the message of every day in the year, and it is the foundation and life of the church.
b. We believe that as his followers we will share in his victory over the grave. “God raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” (I Corinthians 6:l4) The fact of his resurrection is the rock upon which we build a faith that we will be raised to new and everlasting life.
c. What will the resurrected life be like? No one knows. The Apostle Paul tells us that it will not be a fleshly resurrection but God will give us “spiritual bodies” which seems to mean that we will be individual persons with means of expression and identification.
d. We affirm that at death the believer goes to the presence of God, who is our eternal home. The Christian no longer inhabits his physical body. His real person is taken to the presence of God. Not even death is able to separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus.
e. The hope of eternal life is not based upon our own worth, which could only bring judgment, but upon the graciousness of God. As Christians we can therefore commit to God’s care those who die, trusting that by his grace all who believe in Him will be raised to life eternal.
A Christian Funeral Service
Our Christian belief about God, about death and about life forms the basis of our funeral services. The title of this statement drawn from the Book of Order reminds us as does The Book of Common Worship that our funerals are primarily “Services of Witness to the Resurrection”. This reminds us that the funeral is:
l. A Service of Worship to God
In this service we as God’s people witness to our faith in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We give thanks to God, the Creator of all, for the gift of life given to the deceased. We claim God’s promises of help and assurance for those who mourn.
2. As A Service of Worship It Should Be Held In The Church
There are sometimes, of course, extenuating circumstances, but normally the church is the most suitable place for such a service. This is the place where faith is born and nurtured, where marriage vows are made, children baptized and confirmed, where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated and where week by week the congregation gathers to worship. It is the setting and the association of the church that helps to give us an awareness of the presence of God which brings assurance and comfort.
Elements In A Christian Funeral Service
l. The Reading Of Scripture
God’s Word to our need is the strength of a Christian funeral. God speaks to our grief His healing word of love and assurance. Old Testament readings particularly appropriate for a funeral service include: Psalms 23; 46; 90; l03; l2l; l30; Isaiah 40; 43: l-3. New Testament readings include: John ll and l4; I Corinthians l3 and l5; II Corinthians l: 3-7; I Thessalonians 4: l3-l4; I Peter l: 3-9; Revelation 7: 9-l7; 2l: l-4; 22: 3-5; Romans 8.
2. The Prayers
These shall include:
a. Prayers of Thanksgiving for Christ’s victory over death and for the life of the
b. Prayers of Intercession for God’s help, support and comfort to those who mourn.
c. The saying together of the Lord’s Prayer.
3. Affirmation of Faith
It is appropriate that the congregation affirm again its faith using the common Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds. On such occasions the well-known words of the creed, “communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” take on new meaning for us.
4. The Singing of Hymns
Nothing so definitely gives a Service of Worship its intended note of faith and victory as the united voices of Christians singing some of the great hymns which express our hope in God. Appropriate hymns for such a service are:
“A Mighty Fortress is our God” “O God, Our Help in Ages”
“For All the Saints” “Now Thank We All Our God”
“How Firm A Foundation” “Sun of My Soul”
“Jesus Christ is Risen Today” “The Strife is O’er”
“The Church’s One Foundation” “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”
5. Organ Music, Solos and Anthems
(This reflects the PCUSA Book of Order W-1.4005)
“All music used during the service including solos, anthems and organ music should be selected in consultation with the pastor, who will confer with the organist to ensure that the selections are appropriate. All music should reflect the triumphant good news of God’s victory over death in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
l. Funeral Arrangements
Christians recognize with all persons the inevitability of death. Since it is difficult under emotional stress to plan or act wisely, the Christian family should make calm appraisal of intents and desires concerning appropriate funeral arrangements before death is imminent. The form attached is intended to be of assistance to you in this matter. A completed copy may be placed in a sealed envelope with your name on the outside and given to the Pastor to place in a confidential file at the church, if you so desire.
2. Disposition of the Body
Christian methods of disposition of the body are interment, cremation or donation for medical purposes. In all cases ostentation and undue expenses should be avoided.
In lieu of flowers, it is increasingly becoming a custom to suggest that memorial contributions be made to the church or a specific charity.
4. Funeral or Memorial Service?
Traditionally, the interment has taken place following the service at the church. Such practice, though, was not that of the early Christians or the early American Protestants. The bringing of the body to the church was introduced by the Roman Catholic Church. The ancient practice has much to commend it. If the committal of the body occurs before the church service, at a graveside service for the family and close friends, we are freer to turn our attention away from the physical remains to God, our refuge and strength. A “service of witness to the resurrection” concluding in the church rather than the cemetery can create a feeling far less stark and dreadfully final.
Church Guidance Concerning Funeral Services
The pastor should be contacted at the time of a death in order to assist the family in making the funeral arrangements. No service should be scheduled before the pastor has been consulted concerning his or her availability and that of the church. If the pastor is not available at the time of death, these arrangements should be discussed with the church office.
2. It is anticipated that the pastor will conduct the church’s funeral or memorial services. If the family would like another minister to participate in the service, the pastor will need to be informed so that he or she may extend the invitation and work out the details of the service with the other minister.
3. The pastor does not charge fees for his or her leadership in funeral services. An honorarium may be given.
4. If the pastor is not available to lead a service, the church will make arrangements for another minister to conduct the service and will pay the substitute $150 per service.
5. It is anticipated that the church organist will play for all of the church’s funeral services.
6. The church organist does not charge fees for his or her assistance with funeral services. An honorarium may be given.
7. If the church organist is not available to assist with a service, the church will make arrangements for someone to take his or her place and will pay the substitute $150 per service.
8. If the family would like a guest soloist to participate in the service, that person will need to consult with the church organist regarding the selection of music and any rehearsal schedule.
9. The adult choir, as a volunteer group, will ordinarily not be available to sing at a funeral service.
10. A tolling of the church’s bells may be offered as part of the service if the family requests it. The nature and placement of the toll in the service is the pastor’s responsibility (Book of Order, W-1.4006).
11. While the pastor will consult with the family regarding special requests for elements to be included in the service, he or she has responsibility for determining the actual content of the service (Book of Order, W-1.4006).
12. If the body is brought to the church, the casket ordinarily will remain closed (Book of Order, W-4.10005).
13. The church’s funeral pall is available for use in any service held in the church. Its use is encouraged, though the family may elect to have a flower spray instead.
14. If flowers are used in the church, their use should direct attention to God and reflect an appropriate stewardship.
15. The church, through its ushering committee, will provide a sufficient number of ushers for the service. The family, however, is responsible for securing pallbearers.
16. Any civic or fraternal rites shall be held at a time and place other than that of the worship service (Book of Order, W-4.10005).
17. The Memorials Committee is available to consult with the family regarding the use to be made of memorials given to the church.
18. The Presbyterian Women’s organization is available to provide the family with a meal on the day of the funeral, if the family desires one. This may be held at the church or the home.
19. The members of the First Presbyterian Church are encouraged to discuss with their families their wishes and preferences regarding details and arrangements for a funeral service and disposition of the body, using the attached form. A copy of the form may be placed in a sealed envelope with your name on the outside and given to the pastor to place in a confidential file at the church. This form should be updated as needed. Two copies of the form are attached. Additional forms may be obtained from the church office.
Revised and adopted by Session 4-14-09