By Ross Engel –
My wife walked slowly up the aisle of the church; she was dressed in black, my seven-month-old son James on her hip and my three-year -old daughter excitedly holding her hand. The eyes of all those gathered watched her as they came forward. There was a slight gasp from the front row as she picked up our three-year-old and leaned over the casket so that Eliana could get a better look at “Mr. Art.” After a few sweet words, they took their place, sitting with the rest of the congregation, and awaiting the beginning of the funeral service.
Since they are PKs (pastor’s kids), my three little ones have been to their fair share of funerals. In addition to the various members of our congregation, they have been to a few family members’ funerals, too. Abigail was two and Eliana a newborn when my Grandma Krupp died. It was the first funeral that Abigail can remember. Abigail was five when my Grandma Engel died last November, Eliana was three, and James was only a few months old.
At each funeral, we have had the conversation with well-meaning mourners about the “appropriateness” of bringing children to a visitation/wake and funeral. Now, certainly children can get noisy and antsy during any church service, so I can understand concerns of disrupting the service (though, typically kids that are used to attending church can manage sitting through a short funeral service).
But concern for how well a child sits in church is seldom the issue. The real concern typically expressed is the thought that “death is not an appropriate place for children.” “It’s too much for them to handle or process.” “It might give them bad dreams.” I’ve heard those and a half-dozen other “concerns” over the years.
Death offers an amazing opportunity to confess the Gospel to my children (and my children, in turn, have learned to confess the hope that we have in Christ). In the face of death, I have been able to teach my children that, because of sin, every living thing will one day die. “The wages of sin is death” – Romans 6:23. I have been given the chance to teach them that we do not mourn without hope. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” – 1 Thessalonians 4:14. And as we have stood under the tent of cemetery committal services, they have heard me (or other pastors) say, “… Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body”
When Abigail was two, I told her God’s Word of promise from Ezekiel 37:12. When Jesus returns on the Last Day, He will “Breathe into [our] graves and cause us to come up out of our graves.” I told her that when Jesus comes back, He will bring us back to life, and that He will dwell with us forever in the new heavens and the new earth. And so, at Grandma Krupp’s funeral, in the blowing snow and the freezing wind of a subzero Minnesota January, Abigail insisted that we stay until the casket was lowered into the ground and the dirt was shoveled onto it. She wanted to make sure that Grandma’s body was safely in the ground so that it would still be there when Jesus came back. As we walked back to the car, she looked back, and in her sweet voice she called out, “Bye great-grandma, I’ll see you when Jesus comes back to wake us all up.” In the midst of tears, I had to smile. She understands the hope that we have in Christ. She has no doubt in the promise of the resurrection, and she confidently confesses that hope at every funeral she has ever attended. Last November, as we drove to my Grandma Engel’s funeral, it made me smile to hear Abigail lean over and say to her little sister, “Eliana, when Jesus comes back, He’s going to wake up great-grandma and we won’t have to be sad anymore.”
What a beautiful confession of faith. I pray they never outgrow that confidence and that willingness to confess the hope that we have in Christ!
Parents, if you ever are faced with the decision whether or not to take your children to a funeral, do it. Take the opportunity to teach the hope that we have in Christ and confess what Scripture says! Don’t shy away from the truth. Don’t teach them half-truths or mistruths about turning into angels or God having a special job for them in heaven. Instead, take the time to teach them our Christian faith, confess Christ to them, and deliver to them the real hope that we have.
“Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,” declares the Lord.’” – Ezekiel 37:12-14