Celebration of Life. This phrase has become more commonly used in past years, probably because our sensitive hearts can’t handle words like “funeral,” which makes sense. It does come from the Latin word for “dearth,” after all. That word is far too negative. Far too final. Far too dark. Far too real. It doesn’t evoke positive emotion but is far more tied to grief and sorrow. Emotions aren’t enjoyable, so why would it make sense to call it something that is tied to grief. Let’s celebrate instead. Celebrating is joyful, fun, and is reminiscent of better days when the deceased was still breathing. So, let’s just celebrate. Don’t mind the corpse lying in the box. Or the ashes in the urn. Don’t mind the elephant in the room named death. Instead, let’s celebrate life, let’s smile, laugh, and remember how good a person this was.
But I have a question about these celebrations, if they were so great, so good, so loving and caring, why are they dead? Of course, at the celebration of life, no one celebrates the deceased and their faults and failures. No one celebrates the fact that they were a bad parent who neglected their children. No one celebrates the fact that occasionally they drank too much. No one celebrates the fact that they were a gossip, or a poor friend, untrustworthy, a thief, an addict, or whatever other failure everyone knows about but chooses to paint over with makeup like the one in the casket. The reality is there isn’t much to celebrate, at least not about that person lying there before you. They were a failure. They sinned, fell short, and failed in their vocations time and again. Of course, they are loved. Even more so then, let’s not ignore the reality of death. Instead, let’s face it head-on.
A funeral is to greet death. Don’t get me wrong, funerals are celebratory… But not of the life that was lived and is now lost. Instead, they are celebratory only when they are in Christ. Funerals are meant to acknowledge death, not hide from him or gloss over it with sweet stories and empty platitudes. Funerals are meant for grieving people to come and be comforted not by reminiscing (although it’s not a bad thing) but by hearing the proclamation that death is defeated and conquered enemy. Funerals are for the hope of an empty grave and new life in the presence of God in the new creation. Funerals are where death is defeated and no longer rule and reign. For funerals are where Christ’s death and resurrection are proclaimed, not a eulogy with a list of works that are like filthy rags. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for eulogies, fond memories, and laughs remembering beloved deceased. But the funeral, the funeral is where Christ is central. Where his life, death and resurrection, and imminent return are the focus. For those are the only things that save.
So, set aside this phrase. It is therapeutic at best but doesn’t bring much comfort. It doesn’t focus on the one person who lived that can truly bring those who have died back to life. It focuses on someone that could not save themselves. Stick with “funeral” for there you will greet death and look at it face to face. You will hear of death’s defeat; you will hear of it being swallowed up forever. At a funeral, you will grieve as one should, for greeting death comes with acknowledging what it is, a curse, an enemy, and evil. Yet, at a funeral, you will not grieve without hope. For here you will hear of the one person who has lived, the God-man, who lived, died, and rose, for you. So, I suppose if you must celebrate, make it a Celebration of Resurrection. For Christ will return, and he will return soon, and he will raise all those dear children from their graves, and they will be alive, celebrating in the presence of God and the Lamb. Forever.