Covid 19: Funeral

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Today I took two funerals at our local crematorium. They were both pre-booked before the lockdown and neither of the deceased contracted Covid 19. 

They were both local families who had requested my services but neither attended the church.

Usually I would meet the family in person at their home a week before the funeral to discuss arrangements, prepare the eulogy, read scripture and pray. If they are willing I would then return a second time to confirm the details (ensuring that I have the correct names of all the Grandchildren etc), read scripture and pray. 

I would then meet the family in the home of the deceased the morning of the funeral for “Family Prayers” before leading the procession (with the hearse) to the end of the road. A Welsh Valley tradition. 

The service and committal are both usually at the Crematorium, (very occasionally at the church). 

In such a close community such as the Welsh Valleys, funerals are very well attended. I have rarely done a funeral with less than fifty mourners (and as many as 2,000). 

Following the service I would receive an invite to the wake (usually at the local rugby club). I do go on occasion – if appropriate. 

The following week I hope to meet the family again with a printed copy of the Eulogy in a card and offer further literature about our church and the hope we have in Jesus.

But in light of the Coronavirus and the national lockdown I can no longer follow this process.

So here are some practical pointers that I hope will be of assistance if you are conducting a funeral service during lockdown.

Before the Funeral

Pray.

This is going to be tough and made even harder under the heightened anxiety of the lockdown.

Prepare everything over the phone

Phone technology is more familiar to older relatives (and friends) of the deceased. Nobody will feel left out. Zoom and other video conferencing apps can cause added anxiety in a potentially difficult situation. I would not use them unless recommended by the family.

Make sure you have contacted all the family and friends that wish to be involved.

Your initial contact may give you all the information you need, but it is worthwhile to call wider family and friends out of courtesy to see if they have anything to add. 

Follow Government guidelines

New regulations limit the amount of mourners that can attend a funeral. Our local crematorium has stipulated a maximum of five guests. Make the family aware that you are up to date with the guidelines. This will save any embarrassment on the day if others wish to come.

Liaise with the Funeral Director about who can come.

Please be sensitive, deciding who can come can cause a family feud at a most difficult time.

Make the effort to contact all those in the immediate family (and close friends) who cannot come because of the restrictions (especially elderly relatives). Help them feel involved by asking for any anecdotes that they wish to add to the eulogy, or simply share with them what you hope to say on the day. Assure them that you will give their condolences during the service. Offer to send a copy of the Eulogy and Order of Service to those who can’t come.

The Funeral Service

The families grief will be amplified by the tragedy of seeing row after row of empty seats. Be conscious of this. 

Arrive as early as possible to give you more time with the family. Expect additional members to attend to view from afar. Make sure you go and speak to them – even if they are five minutes walk away in the car park.

A gentle handshake or a pat on the arm speaks volumes, but this cannot be done. Social Distancing limits our ability to communicate, so more time is necessary to show your support to the family verbally. They will need it.

Thank God for the five in attendance and preach Christ as you would normally to a full house, to quote Rev. Richard Wurmbrand “Preach to the unseen angels”. You will have a small but captivated audience with no where to hide, they are in deep grief and pleading for hope. Jesus is always the answer. Take your time, embrace the silence. 

When it comes to the hymn. Offer the family to stand and simply ponder the words if they do not feel comfortable singing in an empty room. Gauge their response, if they are not singing, remain mute.

At the end of the service

Still respecting ‘Social Distancing’, offer your condolences again to the family then politely and promptly depart, do not linger. 

Wash your hands when you get home. 

Follow up with a phone call over the coming days.

Love them. Pray for them.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

War! Huh?

 

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This Sunday we remember the brave men and women who gave all to defend our country and our way of life. 

War is a terrible reminder of what humanity is capable of. It is a time where our innate hate is amplified as we fight other sentients over resources, ideologies and principles. 

How did we obtain the capacity to be so evil to each other and yet have the moral compass to know that war is wrong?

This dichotomy is amplified during conflict but remains part of the human condition in peace time to.

We all have the knowledge of (and the capacity to do) good and evil and each day we choose to do one or the other when opportunities present themselves.

It is illogical to conclude that a deterministic process such as natural selection would yield such a counter productive paradox. But what is the alternative explanation? Well there is nothing I have read in natural history, science, religion or philosophy that comes anywhere close to explaining this paradigm of the human condition as well as Genesis 3. So what is it all about?

In the beginning God.

He created the Heavens, the Earth. Next He made Humanity (Adam). Adam was made to glorify God by living in obedience to His life giving creation ordinances (that still apply to us today). Adam was to; work and care for the Earth (Genesis 2:19), observe the Sabbath (Genesis 2:3) and be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28, 2:22-24). God made Adam from what was already created (Genesis 2:7) and created him in His image so that he had the capability for the task at hand (Genesis 2:15). Adam was created from dust, to rule over the dust, never to be consumed by the dust. Adam was to fulfil his calling as God’s image bearer on earth (Genesis 2:7) by living, working and multiplying in creation as a creature in the total reliance of the creator’s provision (Genesis 1:30). What bliss!

Bonhoeffer suggests that Eve was made out of Adam to be a tangible reminder of his unique position in creation, above the animals as their caretaker and below God as His creature. As flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone (Genesis 2:23) Adam should have seen in his equal (Eve) his own physical limitations and this should have undermined any attempt of his to be “Sicut Deus” (like God). A desire that (because of his limitations as a creature) would lead to death (Genesis 2:17).

Adam’s tenure in Eden was dependant on his behaviour as a creature in ‘special relationship’ to the creator. But as we know his stay was short lived, the forked tongue serpent tempted Adam and Eve to brake their relationship with God (what the Bible calls sin). The serpent deceived Adam and Eve into thinking that their unique position as being ‘God’s image bearer’ gave them the ability to become “gods” like their creator despite being limited creatures (Genesis 3:5). They ate the forbidden fruit and as a result they became what they could never be “Sicut Deus” (like God). This disobedience gave humanity the knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam’s life giving relationship with his creator had changed forever and his current position as Garden caretaker became untenable. 

Adam and Eve were successfully tempted by the serpent, they willingly ignored God’s command and took the forbidden fruit (which in itself was not innately evil or poisonous). It was the disobedience (and thus the rejection of the life giver) that damned Adam and Eve. 

In this very act of defiance humanity in Adam and Eve became “like God”. For the first time their eyes were opened (Genesis 3:7) and they gained the knowledge of Good and Evil. They became conscious of their nakedness (Genesis 3:7) and they could see their own disobedience and frailty. As creatures now “like God” they carried their shame (that they could not bare) and naively attempted to cover themselves in fig leaves and went into hiding (Genesis 3:8).

The fall caused the human ‘creature’ to become ‘like’ its ‘creator’, Adam (humanity) gained the knowledge of good and evil and as a result he could no longer rely on the creators provision in the same way that he did before. Humanity would now have to survive outside of the Garden, not simply as dependent creatures in God’s creation, but as dependent creatures “like gods”, a curse that would lead to all conflict and our demise (Romans 6:23).  

In Adam, humanity now has to live with the ongoing knowledge of our physical and spiritual limitations. Because of sin, we aspire to be “like God” but at the same time, we are also well aware of our limitations as creatures, we now own our nakedness, our shame and weakness, we now have to eat through painful toil (Genesis 3:17). 

But God (being gracious) commences His redemptive work to save humanity. 

He begins by destroying the tempter. He judges the serpent (Genesis 3:14) and delivers the gospel promise in Genesis 3:15 “And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

Rejecting the God of life logically leads to death. Adam’s breaking of the law led to the blood of an animal being shed, its skin was used to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. Safely in their garments (Genesis 3:21) God honoured humanities choice to reject Him and they were cast eastward separating them (and all humanity) from the tree of life with cherubim and a flaming sword guarding the way back (Genesis 3:24).

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Regaining our special relationship

Genesis 4 onwards begins the greatest story ever told as God works out His redemptive plan. He calls out a distinct people for Himself (Israel) and through them births the promised Messiah who crushed the serpents head at Calvary and with it the curse. This opened a safe way back to God for humanity by faith in the promise fulfilled in the historic person, Jesus of Nazareth (the Christ). 

Despite our desire to be “like God” (and thus naturally rejecting the ‘God’), God still graciously provides for us through His creation (Matthew 5:43). We can still live in the knowledge of what is Good and are blessed with the enjoyment of creation ordinances such as the Sabbath (Mark 2:27), marriage and work.  By God’s Grace we can still breath and eat (Genesis 3:17) and we can multiply and live. But this reality of what is “Good” is constantly clouded (as the curse dictates) in the knowledge of “Evil”. As a result the benefits of work are now tarnished by toil, our perception of metaphysical truths such as our existence in time/space is now tarnished by the knowledge of our impending deaths. We can love, care and show charity to fellow human beings whilst lying and cheating and blowing others up. 

This dual nature that is uniquely human is a curse that is the cause of all conflict and it could have continued for an eternity if we were able to grasp the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). But by God’s Grace humanity was spared from this endless paradox by our expulsion from Eden. 

Now living on the “outside” we have but three-score and ten years to either choose to cause as much trouble as we can (being like gods) squabbling over our lusts and desires, fighting over mere material tokens that rust and decay, or we can choose to live as God indented, fully dependent on Him, in His service, in utter peace in the glorious promise of the Gospel.

If we choose the latter we become new creations ( 2 Corinthians 5:17) where we are no longer ruled by our desire to be gods. Instead we follow God into a promised eternal home of a far greater Eden (Heaven). A new home where we are regarded higher than the angels (Hebrews 1:4) and will live in perfect precious sinless communion with God (1 Corinthians 13:12). A home where we will never be tempted to be “like God” again but spend an eternity in peace, crowned as His adopted sons and daughters. (Ephesians 1:5). 

I find no better explanation for the human condition, neither a better cure for it.

This Remembrance Day, as we ponder the sacrifice of war, let us relinquish our desire to be like God and simply follow the God. Let us cling together in peace and unity to the hope of a better world to come in Christ Jesus.