Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

August 2022 Newsletter

“But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” Jude vs.9

I remember first reading that verse in my Bible and going, “Wait. What?!”

Imagine the Devil and Michael standing over the dead body of Moses and arguing over what to do with Moses is a strange image to read.  Jude is quoting a well-known story at the time that many people knew about.  It most likely came from a book called “The Assumption of Moses.”  The book is now lost to the pages of history though we have references to it by some early Church Fathers as well as being referenced to here in Jude verse 9.

The best scholarship on the subject says that what is happening is that the devil is resisting the efforts by the Archangel Michael of resurrecting Moses to eternal life.  Satan is trying to bar Moses’ resurrection because of Moses’ sin.  We see similar struggles in Zechariah 3, Daniel 10, and Job 1 by Satan as he tries to accuse God’s saints of sin so most likely this is happening here too.  The lack of context makes this reference even more provoking.  Moses is dead, who cares about what happens to him now?  What is going on?  Why is Pastor writing about this?

Well, strange as this image is, I have come to find myself doing this now when it comes to funerals.  I may not be arguing with Satan, at least not directly, but I do find myself contending with getting family members to give the body of our members the send off and blessing that is not only beneficial but needful.

I have been beside myself at times when faithful members have little to no connection to the church for their funerals.  Not because they themselves want that, but mostly because their family and children, who are becoming more unconnected to the church every generation, see no point and too much hassle to have the service in the church.  Convenience wins.    

So, being the shepherd of your body and soul, especially until your body is put to rest, I am going to spend the rest of this newsletter disputing about what should happen with your bodies once you have died.  This is going to be far from comprehensive and there are so many avenues I could and should explore with this that will not be included due to space. (I have been told I have 4 pages) But I will try my best here to advocate a more Christian culture of funerals and how I approach funerals and want you to as well.  I want members’ funerals to be here in the church and a full blown service.

My goal here is what should happen from the moment I stand up clothed in my office with alb and stole and say the Invocation, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” To the Benediction, “The Lord bless you and keep you…” Enough could be said about everything else about the visitation, reception, (please have a reception here at church.  We want to serve both you and your family) and committal.  This article is zeroing in on just the funeral service itself.  So with that, let’s dig in…

First.  Funerals are not about you or me, they are about Jesus.  I think that is the greatest shift away from doing funerals in churches.  A brother pastor of mine recently had surviving family tell him that he wasn’t going to do the funeral because they knew he was going to talk about Jesus and they didn’t want that.  (Yikes!)

Don’t let that be you.  Make your funeral confess your faith in Jesus.  Doing your funeral in your church is making a confession.  The Church building confesses something that no funeral home can ever do.  What we do with our bodies post-mortem and where we put them for the service teaches us what God thinks of the body.  Your body is you.  The church is where God nourished and sustained your body and soul throughout your earthly life.  In fact, your body is not a shell that we throw off once we die, your body is not just an empty vessel that once carried you.  Your body is you.  Death is when you are ripped into two pieces, which is why death is “the final enemy to be destroyed” 1 Corinthians 15:26.  Of course, those who are in Christ, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…” John 11:26

In fact, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit?” 1 Corinthians 6:19.  This does not cease to be when you die.  Your spirit may have departed from your body, but the Holy Spirit remains in, with, and under your body, even in death.  During the funeral service/committal I even say during the liturgy, “And God the Holy Spirit keep these remains until the day of the resurrection of all flesh.”  You have been marked by Holy Baptism which seals you both body and soul.  That mark remains even in death and is the promise that you will be raised.

More could be said, but this alone creates a certain reverence that we should have with the body and that we need to have a funeral service.  This article is not directly about what tract you take with your body after death: cremation, traditional burial, natural burial, etc. that could be its own article.  My point here is this: as Christians we have a duty to make sure that our funerals and our final resting places treat the body knowing that the body is created by God and that Jesus will raise your body again.  That base forms how we build everything else.

The funeral service itself is key to communicate this about your body.  This means that the funeral service for the Christian is not optional.  All services in Church are something Jesus is doing.  Funeral services are giving a final send off and blessing for you though you are dead.  Just as you were escorted in as an infant to the font, so now I escort you out of the church as your family load you up in the hearse to be taken to your final resting place.  The funeral service is how we transition you from the church militant to the church triumphant.  Your funeral services are also a witness to friends and family.  It is a chance to bring family and friends into the church who may have never heard the Gospel.  It allows us to also a chance to grieve, but “not as those who have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

This brings up several points.  First, plan your funerals today.  Even children who do not respect the Church or want it in the Church will go along with it in the Church if you have it written down that you do.  “Gotta respect my parents’ wishes” goes a long way.   Have details written down about Scripture readings and hymns.  I have the liturgy end covered, but if you own a hymnal (and you should, and we can get you one!!!) then you can find the service on pg. 278.
Make your funeral have hymns that people should sing about Jesus Christ and what he has done.  Make the Scripture readings point to Jesus and the hope we have in him.  We have forms in the office that have suggestions if you have no idea where to start and once you fill out the forms, we can make a copy and file them here at church (PDF here).  I already have about a dozen members on file, and I would like dozens more.

Second, I need to clarify what I mean by both hymns and Scripture.  Not clarifying has come to bite me.  Hymns are not “this is my favorite country song that might reference God once or twice.”  Just because a song says God does not qualify it for Church.  The Hymns should clearly confess Christ as Savior and Lord.  I am looking for “Abide with me” or “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” or “Rock of Ages” or “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” or “I know that my Redeemer lives.”  Anything you can find in the Lutheran Service Book, our Hymnal.  Save the rest for visitation music or reception music, that is where your favorite songs in life should go.
Next.  Scripture readings.  When I asked for Scripture readings once, someone gave me a poem they wrote and said it was God speaking to them.  No.  Scripture Readings are defined as the canonical books of the Old and New Testament.  That poem might be a beautiful piece of literature that can be read at the reception or visitation.  The funeral service itself is no place for such sentiments.

This brings us to the next piece.  Eulogies.  Once I was told, “well pastor.  You can say your peace, but then I will say mine.”  No.  This is perhaps more of a confusion of what preaching is than anything else.  But the sermon, along with the rest of the service, is geared to proclaim Christ in every word and sentence.  My sermon will likely incorporate a part of your life or memories into the proclamation, but that is more of a tie in to get us to Christ and to see him in your life for the sake of the survivors.

Every eulogy I have ever heard gets in the way of the Gospel being proclaimed.  Jesus gets shoved out in every eulogy I have heard.   Even if what is said is great and wonderful.  It may be stuff that should be said, but not during the funeral service.  Saying things like, “this was a good person.” Conflicts with, “this person died because they sinned and need Jesus.”  Saying, “this person loved everyone, and we should live like that too” gives no hope for sinners in need of hearing Christ’s mercy. That is all law, there is no Gospel.  No matter how good of a person they were, they still died.  Telling people to be like their dead loved one while pointing at the casket communicates something very hopeless and vain.  

Because of that I do not allow eulogies as part of the service. (Invocation to Benediction).  They are just bad practice for the service itself.  They belong at the visitation, at the reception, or even at the committal.   Proclamation for the service is the job of the shepherd in charge of your body and soul.

Also, this is something that needs to be said because I have been put in this spot before.  The pastor and the church building come together.  We are kind of a package deal.  We cannot do joint services with churches that we are not in fellowship with and I cannot do services with pastors that do not share our confession of faith.  Catholics, ELCA, every Protestant church, and even WELS (may God grant this one in particular to change one day) are not in fellowship with us.  We cannot split who does the service.  So, your family member who is a minister too cannot split the liturgy or the service with me, and certainly will not be doing any speaking; only LCMS pastors can preach in our pulpits.

I have noted that sometimes funerals are attempted to be done in funeral homes or other places to try and get around this or to give openings for other bad, and what I would call unfaithful, practices.  And I am seen in these cases as just a plug in to be put wherever is wanted.  This screams unfaithful practice.   Funeral home funerals just don’t communicate Christ.  Anyone can have a funeral in the funeral home: a Muslim, a Jew, an Atheist, etc.  You are a Christian, I am writing to Christians, have yours done in the place where you heard God’s Word preached and the Sacraments delivered to you.

Finally, this is for all members, but a way to start shifting the culture of funerals to be in the church is to come to Funerals for members who have died.  You may not have known them, but they are joined to Christ’s body with you.  Even something as simple as attending their funeral will communicate to the deceased’s loved ones that it means something to be connected to the church.  We are getting better about posting the obituaries to our Facebook page and I am looking for ways to get the news out more broadly too, but a lot of this comes to word of mouth.

So if you hear of a funeral happening at our church, tell work that you need to be there.  Get your kids out of school and come.  It is a confession that you can make too to stop your life when death happens and to come and grieve with the family and friends and to take hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the victory that he gives.  You need that too!
So help me contend against Satan over your body.  Funerals are often a joy because it is the time and place where the Gospel is so easily heard in clarity because people want to hear the Good News.  I am writing this because I want it to stay that way and am worried about some of the signs that I see that are beginning to change that.  Our Christian culture is largely gone, and we need to fight for it as Christians.  Future saints are counting on us.

This article is me fighting for that culture to remain vibrant and confessing Christ.  After all, “you are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”    God’s peace to you as his dearly beloved saints whom he came to die and rise for!
Sadly, I am out of space, but I feel like this needed to be written. If you have any questions, and I hope this starts conversations, then please come talk to me!  I want to hear it!

Your shepherd who loves you greatly in the Lord Jesus,

Pastor Andrew Belt