The following project aims to address a prevailing homiletical problem in funeral preaching today. The endeavor of funeral preaching is practiced most commonly in one of two ways. The funeral sermon is completely doctrinal, articulating an eschatology only accounting for that which happens after death, devaluing the life lived. Conversely, the funeral sermon is predominantly biographical, speaking only of the deceased’s life, without any eschatological—and very little theological—reflection.
Therefore, this paper explores the cultural, historical, and theological influences which have led to these practices. While there are many factors which have had an impact on the funeral and funeral preaching over the last 100 years, it is the Church itself, most notably well-intended clergy, who have had the greatest influence. In the midst of a great deal of cultural change, clergy have allowed the funeral ritual and, subsequently, the funeral homily to morph into what is experienced today.
Building on Thomas Long’s recent work, Accompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral, which encourages the Church to reclaim the funeral service as worship, this project seeks to move the church toward a corrective in funeral preaching, reclaiming the funeral homily as proclamation of God’s Word.
Using the Anglo-Catholic tradition of feast days for saints as a model, I argue that for Protestants, who claim all people are made in the image of God, every funeral is an occasion to reflect on the life of a saint. By doing so, the saint’s life becomes primary for the preaching occasion, while scripture plays a secondary role, interpreting that life.
The sermon, then, is not an obituary or eulogy; nor is it a means of converting others to Christian faith. Instead, the funeral sermon becomes a reflection on the ways in which God is revealed through the life and death of the individual being remembered. Such an approach is more balanced, integrating both the theological and biographical, which can reveal the many and varied ways in which God is embodied in humanity.
The conclusion of the project includes four sermons, with commentary, which serve as examples for the homiletical model this project proposes. Each sermon provides one possible approach, given the particular circumstances of the person’s life and death. An effort is made at offering a variety of sermons given the diversity of life and the varied circumstances surrounding death.
My hope is that this project is a continuation of those efforts being made to place value back on the rituals and traditions of the Church, which are increasingly being devalued as the Church declines. Specifically, it attempts to be part of the ongoing conversation regarding the significance of the role of the Church at a time of death and its potential to facilitate healing in the midst of loss and brokenness.