Funeral rites within Evangelical Lutheran Worship are part of a section called “Life Passages.” This will be the next section I work through as part of my project for Ordinary Time. The three liturgies that make up “Life Passages” are Healing, Funeral, and Marriage. These three are grouped because they all indicate a transition in the life of the person(s), they are all encouraged to take place during Holy Communion. ELW’s funeral liturgy is designed to take place in the church with body/ashes present, but it does allow for adaption into a memorial service (p. 279). The introduction to the service also makes it clear that Christian funerals are to call to mind the baptism of the deceased as the basis of Christian hope: “Trusting in God’s promise in baptism that we are claimed by Christ forever, we rest in the sure hope of the resurrection” (p. 279).
The service itself is structured as follows:
I. Greeting – At the entrance of the church with assembly standing and facing the entrance.
II. Thanksgiving for Baptism – Text from Romans 6* is read while a pall is placed over the casket. Followed by the procession into the church.
III. Collect – There are two collects for adults and one for a child provided.
VI. Hymn – Settings of the ‘Nunc Dimittis‘ are suggested.
VII. Apostles Creed
VIII. Prayers of Intercession
HOLY COMMUNION (not included in the funeral liturgy itself)
IX. Commendation – A hymn is sung and the recessional begins.
COMMITTAL (may be immediately following or delayed)
X. Opening Prayer
XI. Reading – Followed by the lowering of the casket into the ground or urn placed in resting place.
XII. Committal Prayer & Aaronic Benediction
XIII. Prayer for the Bereaved
XIV. Lord’s Prayer
The entire service is designed to remind and reassert God’s promise in Holy Baptism and Christ’s victory over death with his resurrection. The deceased is remembered before God and God is thanked for the life of the person. There are two parts of the service that particularly stick out to me, perhaps because they are not a part of the typical non-liturgical service that I regularly witness and both are part of the Committal. The first is the committal prayer itself:
In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to almighty God our sister/brother ______, and we commit her/his body to
the ground or the deep or the elements or its resting place;
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
The Lord bless her/him and keep her/him.
The Lord’s face shin on her/him with grace and mercy.
The Lord look upon her/him with favor and + give her/him peace.
The second is the final blessing:
The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do God’s will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in God’s sight; through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.
Taken together, they summarize the entirety of the Christian theology of death and funerals. We commend our dead to the earth from whence they were first formed in full trust and expectation of the resurrection. This is done because of the new and eternal covenant of Jesus Christ of which we are made apart at Baptism.
On a side note, I’d like to end this by saying that even though many people consider it morbid or bad luck, and other such notions no Christian should be wasting their time on in the first place, please take the time to plan out as much of your funeral service and other arrangements as you possibly can in advance. It lowers the overall stress of the bereaved a great deal when this has been done and assists the grieving process as no one is left wondering whether it was according to the preferences of the deceased. If nothing else, consider it a gift to your spouse, siblings, parents, and/or whomever is part of your life. I’ve planned my funeral service in great detail (and tinker with it from time to time) and I know my family appreciates it.
*“When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”