What do you say in the face of death? What do you say to grieving family, friends, or neighbors? What has been said to you when you lost a loved one?
There’s the awkward moment in the greeting line at the funeral home. There is a hesitation the first time you see a friend after his mom died. There is the debate over whether you should call, stop by, or send a card. Or what do you say a month later, or on the one year anniversary?
Knowing there are a variety of circumstances and contexts, here are a few things to say at death.
Nothing. There is a time for silence and presence. Don’t say anything. Just a hug. Just sitting next to the bereaved. Just holding a hand. Presence is its own speech. It says, “You’re not alone. I’m with you. I love you.”
God gave you an amazing _________. Fill in the blank with father/mother, brother/sister, friend, spouse, etc. What this does is celebrate the goodness of what God has created. These relationships, flawed as they may be, are gifts from God. Acknowledge the blessing that God gave. Point to the gratitude we have for God-given people. (Ps. 107:1)
It’s OK to cry. Give them permission to grieve. We often hear, “You’ve got to be strong.” No, death sucks. It is a wicked consequence of a broken world. We must grieve this fact. We won’t ever heal if we don’t first grieve the loss. (John 11:35)
I don’t know . . . but I know. What about the death of a young person, or a sudden and tragic death? In the face of heartbreaking circumstances, it’s OK to say, “I don’t know.” A funeral prayer says, “Help us, Lord, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and find comfort in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”
There is so much we don’t know. But there are a few things we DO know. Faith clings to it's undisputed certainties. Christ crucified. Christ risen. “I don’t know why this happened, but I do know that Jesus has come to bring life.”
Jesus died on a Friday. His closest friends were confused, depressed, and dejected. But today, we call that Friday "Good Friday." God works life out of the most deathly peril.
You carry on a God-given legacy. Lift up the faithful life of those who have died in Christ. If the deceased held tightly to Jesus, remind the bereaved. God gives us exemplars, spiritual fathers and mothers. They received a heritage of faith that has been passed on to you.
Augustine once said, “We are all dwarves standing on the backs of giants.” Praise God for the giants. And remind the dwarves that at some point, they become the shoulders upon which others will stand. (Ps. 71:18)
We believe in this wild thing called resurrection. As we approach Easter, we witness the stunning fact that a dead man came back to life. Death is not a dead end for those who are in Christ. The Christian hope is not simply in “a better place.” Our hope is grounded in resurrection, the restoration of the body and soul that God created. (I Cor. 15)
The risen Jesus is God’s ultimate word in the face of death. It must be the final message of every funeral.
Our God is a God of life.
Christ is risen.
Death is dead.
“Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.” (Rom. 14:8)
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
God bless you as you prepare for Holy Week.
Share any words that have given you comfort in the face of death.