Even though I retired May 1, 2022, I have already officiated at three funerals. Local funeral homes often connect available clergy with a family who wants a religious service for a deceased loved one, yet they have no connections to a faith community. I suspect I will be doing more of that as I advance into retirement.
The families are very appreciative. Sometimes they are a little embarrassed they have no connection to a congregation or pastor. But mostly they are just grateful knowing that the person who died would have wanted a pastor to “say something” for their funeral. When they thank me, I tend to respond with something like, “You are welcome. It is an honor to be with your family at this sacred time of life.” That is true. Death is sacred, not by its nature, but because of the special way God is present in our dying. God brings to conclusion the life time that God gave. God draws the person who has died more closer to God’s self and being. Because the eternal hand of God is present in this temporal event, death is a sacred encounter. Death itself is not sacred. Death is separation. But God is sacred. The resurrection of Christ enables the dying event to be a “gate” that leads to life in the presence of God. God in Christ conquered death. God converts death into a mechanism; thru it, God calls us home.
When I officiate the funeral of someone I have not met, I rely on the family to help explain the significance of the person whose life is being remembered. I’ll say the good legacies those persons left behind are gifts from God. They formed and shaped and blessed the persons who knew them. It is good to tell those stories because it clarifies the meaning of the person’s life. Remembering their stories is an indirect way of giving thanks to God. God gave those persons life and God gave them gifts. When we recall the way the person exercised their gifts, we give thanks to God the Giver of those gifts.
So, yes, it is possible for pastors to officiate a funeral of a complete stranger. I cannot pretend to have known the person whose funeral I am conducing. But I do know, more importantly, I am known by God, to whom we pray at a funeral liturgy. The person who has died may be a stranger to me, but they are no stranger to God. God knows every quirk of their personality. God knows their life story. God gave them the gifts with which to conduct their lifetime. God understands their role and place in this vast sea of humanity and time.
This calls to mind the gift and grace of the funeral liturgy in a context where the person is known and cherished. The Lutheran Church has liturgy! When our members die, we celebrate their very specific and particular life in the setting of a general liturgy. Their life story is individual and unique; the liturgy is sweeping and universal. Their separate life story is celebrated in a context of worship that links their story to God’s story and to the story of the local congregation. Celebrating a funeral in the place where one was known, using the liturgy of the church, is profoundly healing and life-giving. Before I was ordained, I had no idea that some of the most meaningful encounters in my pastoral life would be at funeral liturgies in the church.
Congregational life is such an amazing gift. You who are active at Living Lord Lutheran Church in Warren have known that for a long time. Your particular congregation has been a gift since its founding in 1964. The good funerals you have provided thru the years are one of the many avenues thru which God has blessed this lovely place to live here in Northeast Ohio. God has many more blessings to extend thru your congregation.
Interim Pastor Meranda’s Office Hours…Interim Pastor Michael Meranda will be in the office on Wednesdays from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. If you need to reach him at times other than on Wednesdays, please call his home phone of 440-998-7321.