Sermon on 2 Chronicles 35:20-27– “Theology of Funerals”

Sermon on 2 Chronicles 35:20-27– “Theology of Funerals”

Sermon for Sunday Evening, February 18th, 2024 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text

[2Ch 35:20-27 ESV] 20 After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah went out to meet him. 21 But he sent envoys to him, saying, “What have we to do with each other, king of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war. And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you.” 22 Nevertheless, Josiah did not turn away from him, but disguised himself in order to fight with him. He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God, but came to fight in the plain of Megiddo. 23 And the archers shot King Josiah. And the king said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am badly wounded.” 24 So his servants took him out of the chariot and carried him in his second chariot and brought him to Jerusalem. And he died and was buried in the tombs of his fathers. All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. 25 Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a rule in Israel; behold, they are written in the Laments. 26 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and his good deeds according to what is written in the Law of the LORD, 27 and his acts, first and last, behold, they are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah.

Introduction

I have chosen this rather obscure text from 2 Chronicles as the text for the sermon this evening. But we won’t be delving into the history or background of the text. We will however use it as a launching point for understanding some theology of funerals. I admit that this sermon is a bit hodge-podge. We’ll look at some diverse points regarding funerals. But this gives us an opportunity to look at some points that might not otherwise be noted in a sermon.

II. The Purpose(s) of a Funeral

There frankly isn’t a lot of information about funerals in the Bible.

They occur. That is, there were funerals of a sort in the Bible. There were burials in the earth and in caves. And in foreign places in the ancient world there were burials in the catacombs and cremations by fire. And we know that regardless of how a body is interred, the Lord will raise all with new bodies in the Resurrection.

But funerals didn’t always occur in the formal sense. They didn’t have an official service for Jesus in the Synagogue or in a home. But there were mourners (Mary his mother, and Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, and Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus) and there was a burial.

The term “funeral,” in fact, is not in the ESV. But in other translations the word is used. And looking at those references we can see what often occurred at funerals:

1. A funeral fire. (2 Chronicles 16:14, 2 Chronicles 21:19, Jeremiah 34:5). King Asa is buried in a tomb, and then somewhere outside of the tomb a great fire is made in his honor. Later of King Jehoram it says that “his people made no fire in his honor, like the fires made for his fathers.”

2. Funeral offerings (Ezekiel 43:7, 9)

3. Funeral songs (2 Samuel 1:17, 2 Samuel 3:33, 2 Chronicles 35:25, Ezekiel 2:10, 19:1, 19:14, 26:17, 27:2, 27:32, 28:12, 32:16, Amos 5:1, Matthew 11:17, Luke 7:32)

4. Funeral processions (Job 21:33, Luke 7:12)

5. Funeral clothes (Amos 8:10)

6. Funeral music (Matthew 9:23)

7. And Lamentation and Weeping (2 Chronicles 35:25, (Ecclesiastes 12:5, 2 Samuel 3:32) Crying is ok.

In our text we find a number of these item noted regarding the funeral of King Josiah.

There is a:

1. A lament of Jeremiah

2. Singing men and sing women (singing laments)

3. General mourning (All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah)

4. He is buried in a tomb.

None of these are particularly required, but all are examples of what is common at a funeral. And perhaps we should pause to consider that the ancient funeral was a longer process; days of mourning. And we still have days of morning, even if a funeral itself is less than an hour long.

Interestingly, we read in our text, about Josiah, that while “he did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God” and was shot by archers which led to his death, yet the text speaks of “his good deeds according to what is written in the Law of the LORD.” A separate sermon could be given on this point: some sin at the end of life doesn’t nullifying your status with God. The forgiven of God are forgiven even when they sin at the end like Josiah did.

Well then, what is the purpose of a funeral? From the various aspects we find of funerals in the Bible, we can say the purpose of a funeral is something like this:

(And this is my own definition.) The purpose of a funeral is to make a death known publicly and to make our mourning, lamentation, weeping, known publicly and so to give respect to the deceased.

II. Is a Funeral a Worship Service?

But it is also a time for us to look to the Lord. We don’t have a specified Book of Church Order in the Bible Presbyterian Church, but in the funeral section of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Book of Church Order is that that a funeral is “to promote the honor of God and the edification of the people.”

If it is a service to promote the honor of God, then I would call it a worship service.

And there is some debate about this. Some argue that a funeral is not a worship service. And I guess the distinction they are making is between a corporate worship service and a special service for a family.

But even though the funeral service isn’t a corporate service (that members are expected to attend) it is, in my view, still a worship service.

The OPC Book of Church Order (again) refers to a funeral as a “particular service” and a “funeral service.”And it says “the entire service should emphasize the reading of Scripture and acts of direct WORSHIP.”

And as a worship service then, a funeral service is regulated by the same standard which we hold all other worship services to; that is, we are to limit the service to reading of Scripture, prayer, a sermon message, and Biblical hymns. Just as it is inappropriate to play your favorite Garth Brooks song in a regular church service, so you shouldn’t have that in a funeral service.

III. The Focus of a Funeral

This leads us into the subject of the Focus of a Funeral. On whom is the focus?

No doubt many in the world would say “Duh, the focus is on the deceased.”

But not in a Christian funeral. Like all worship services, the focus is on God, particularly on Jesus Christ as the Resurrection and the Life.

A Christians doesn’t want the attention drawn to themselves, but to Christ and his Grace.

So another BOC (the ARP BOC) says “Personal remarks about the deceased may be made to give honor to whom honor is due, and thanksgiving to God for benefits received and a good example given, as appropriate in each case. However, due care should always be taken to keep the focus of the service
on God, who helps and comforts those who grieve, and to whom alone all praise belongs.”

Similarly, the OPC BOC says, “Care should be taken that it be evident that the ultimate goal of the service is to exalt God, not to exalt man. Personal reference may have some place, but the entire service should emphasize the reading of Scripture and acts of direct worship.”

A funeral is a time to proclaim Christ. The focus is on Christ.

Unfortunately for those who like “extras” at a funeral, like a slideshow, a rock ballad, and stories of the deceased’s glory days, our position takes the “FUN” out of FUNERAL.

But the funeral is to be a serious occasion. An occasional of mourning and of looking to Christ for comfort. The historic practices of the church (dressing in black, not speaking much, being there, and praying) are far superior to the modern practice of turning it into a “celebration of life.”

It is almost insulting to call a funeral a time of celebration. I know that people are celebrating the life and not the death, but still if I’ve just lost a loved one, it is a time of mourning above all else.

And that brings us to the first of some practical applications:

V. Practical Advice

1. Remember that Death is the Enemey

Death is always bad. Death is always the enemy. Never say “It is good that he/she died” as in “they are no longer suffering.” Say as little as possible. Your presence is more important than words. And safer! Those mourners I mentioned earlier, those ones there after Jesus’s death (Mary his mother, and Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, and Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus) there is no note of them giving any words, but there is record of their presence.

2. Speak Few Words

I say “Sorry for you loss.” That is much safer that saying “Sorry for the loss of your uncle” when it turns out it was the aunt who passed away. I almost made such a faux pas at a wedding once many years ago. I was an usher. And they told me I was to walk the wife’s grandmother down the aisle first, and then I was to walk the wife’s mother down the aisle. When I was told this I almost broke out into a sweat because I looked over (and from the perspective of me, a 20-something year old at the time) all I saw were a group of old ladies. Which one was the mother? Which one was the grandmother? I’m glad someone else stepped in and told me who was who.

3. Preach Christ

Now, while those attending should speak few words, the preacher should speak many words about Christ. They are to preach Christ, not the deeds (whether good or bad of the deceased).

4. Give Honor to Whom Honor is Due

There is a descent, a decline in what a funeral looks like in our day. And even a decline in the likelihood that someone will have a funeral. There are different levels of funerals that I’ve been called to participate in.

1. Funeral service at church

2. Funeral service in a funeral home

3. Just some graveside prayers

4. Just meeting with the family

And then there is, no doubt, many who don’t have a funeral at all. Sometimes this might be for financial reasons, other times perhaps because the deceased had few living connections.

Not essentially required. But a good thing. You don’t have to have a funeral. Jesus didn’t have one. But it is beneficial to have one.

We are to give honor to whom honor is due.

At a recent funeral, just five minutes before I began the service, the sister of the deceased said to me, “My sister was sometimes a Roman Catholic, do you think we should have had a priest?” And she said “Will you be praying for the dead?” Oh boy did I have to think quickly. I told her, for one, I am a protestant minister and we pray for the comfort of the living and we trust trust in God’s plan for all people. And then I said, (and I said this despite strong disagreements with Rome), we pray to the same God, and you are honoring your sister by having a service; many people don’t even have a service these days.

This doesn’t mean we have to spend a crazy amount of money on a funeral. But, honor is to be given. Do all things decently and in good order is a Presbyterian mantra, and that applies also to funerals.

There is a time for mourning. And funerals are that time. They are also a time for worship. And they are a time for preaching Christ. I pray above all that that is our focus when attending or preaching a funeral. Preach Christ. Be present and be loving and speak of the God who first loved us.