Q&A — May I Speak at a Non-Lutheran Funeral?

A concerned reader sent this question:

I am a Lutheran and understand that eulogies are not given in traditional Lutheran funeral services. But what should I say if I am asked to speak at the funeral of a family member who is not a Lutheran?

 

Thank you for your question. You are correct when you understand that eulogies are not given in a Lutheran rite of Christian Burial. Lutheran Service Book: Agenda mentions at least twice in the Christian Burial section:

A eulogy is not in the best Christian tradition. An obituary may be read which focuses on the Gospel promise of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ our Lord, and not on the good deeds of the deceased.

Your question raises a point that I have had to deal with both as a layman and as a pastor. My uncle died a number of years ago. I was asked to be the “master of ceremonies” at his funeral service. The service was held in a funeral home and was more of a secular gathering (a “wake” as we would say in Chicagoland and its environs) rather than a rite of Christian Burial. I was a seminary student at the time and recall speaking with classmates and a professor about my options. I took a moment toward the end of the “wake” and spoke of the comfort of the Resurrection from a Christian perspective. I was careful to say that my words were from a Christian perspective and were for the general comfort of those in the room who believed that Jesus Christ was their Lord and Savior.

As a pastor I have been asked by the family of the deceased to allow family members time to speak a word of thanks or some general remarks to the congregation. My practice is to encourage the family to reserve those remarks for the visitation (“wake”) or perhaps a funeral dinner after the rite of Christian Burial and Committal (if a Committal follows). If this is not possible, or if the family requests that the remarks happen during the rite, I encourage those remarks after the Benediction. Never have I had an individual take the opportunity to undo the comfort of the Resurrection with their remarks. Perhaps other pastors have had that happen. If so, those pastors have had to change their practice.

My suggestion to you would be to ask if you could save your remarks for the visitation (“wake”) or for another time. Another suggestion would be to speak about the comfort you have as a Christian concerning the Resurrection. If the deceased was a Christian, you may have the opportunity to speak about how Christ worked in your loved one’s life (baptism, the Lord’s Supper, hearing Christ-centered preaching). If the deceased gave no evidence of being a Christian, then you are in a difficult situation. My suggestion would be to do as I did years ago and speak of the comfort you have as a Christian under the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Speak about how the Resurrection gives you comfort. Speak nothing about the deceased, for you have nothing to say about him.

These situations are  difficult for the pastor and for the family of the deceased. Speaking with clarity without giving a false hope is what is needed. We pastors have to deal with situations like these quite often. I pray God’s blessings for you as you discern what is best for your situation.

– Rev. David M. Juhl+

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