The Bible has much to say about funerals, both technically and emotionally. Depending on our religious background and traditions, funerals may have different meanings and look different from time to time. However, the Bible conveys certain truths about funerals that are consistent and unchanging.
From an emotional perspective, the Bible speaks of funerals as a time for mourning. In the Book of Job, for example, Job’s friends came to mourn with him and comfort him. There was no ceremony other than Job’s friends coming to him to comfort him and provide support at a difficult time. Other portions of the Bible tell of funerals that took place with weeping and wailing. It is clear that funerals are a time of sorrow and deep grief.
Technically, the Bible speaks of funerals as a way to give honor to the deceased. In 2 Samuel, there is a great deal of focus on giving King Saul a proper burial, to provide him the respect he deserved due to his leadership and service. Likewise, the Scriptures are filled with other instances of people being buried in accordance with ceremonial requirements.
At times, the Bible also addresses funerals from an eschatological perspective. There are several references to graves being opened at the time of Christ’s resurrection, as well as hints of people being resurrected in some capacity. This can provide comfort to a believer, as it speaks of a reunion with loved ones at the end of history.
In addition, the Bible fortifies the importance of mourning and remembering the deceased. The Book of Genesis speaks of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, dying and the significance of her memory being passed down through the ages. Isaiah 38:18-19 encourages us to remember the deceased, while Amos 8:10 speaks of how death is a time of wailing to some. All together, these passages paint a vivid picture of the importance of remembrance and paying homage to the deceased through funerals.
Funerals, as depicted in the Bible, provide a comforting mixture of sorrow and celebration. They are a time for honoring the deceased, remembering them, and grieving. But, at the same time, funerals can also be hopeful. Through funeral ceremonies, we can find hope in the eternal perspective that is discussed in the Bible, and from the promise of the resurrection.
Social and Cultural Meanings
Funerals are also filled with significant cultural and social meanings. The Bible, being a collection of stories and literature from many areas of the world and of varying cultures, conveys this as well.
In Ancient Israel, funerals were a way to protect the integrity of a family line. The death of a father, for example, could cause his sons to stray and be taken advantage of or taken into slavery by another family. Funerals were a way to keep this from occurring and provide a way for families to stay connected and safe.
Additionally, the Bible speaks of funerals as important ceremonies for honoring leaders and great individuals. In the Books of Kings and Chronicles, there are numerous examples of great funerals being provided for esteemed leaders, with detailed accounts of the ceremonies involved such as processions and music.
Finally, funerals have also been a way to show hospitality and enhance relationships between families. In Luke’s Gospel, we see the account of Jesus attending the funeral of a member of the Behtany family, and how it was such a kind gesture of hospitality and love.
Funerals as A Time of Concluding
The Bible also encourages us to use funerals as a time for concluding the life of a departed one. Solomon in Ecclesiastes notes that the time is a time to “mark off” the days one has lived. This is encouraging us to use funerals as a time to remember and reflect on all the moments that went into making a person who they were.
The Bible provides accounts of funerals as a way to bid farewell to a loved one. We see this in John 11:19, when Martha and Mary go out to meet Jesus, knowing that their brother Lazarus had already died. They were ready to conclude his life, and say a final goodbye.
Finally, funerals were a way to publicly give honor and respect to the deceased. In Nehemiah the chapter speaks of Jehoiada’s funeral and how Jerusalem’s leaders and people gave him a proper funeral, filled with honor and respect. This helps to close the chapter on someone’s life, and helps the deceased not only to be remembered, but to be honored.
Metaphorical Significance of Funerals
Finally, the Bible also speaks of funerals in metaphorical terms. This can be seen in verses such as Isaiah 57:1-2, which speaks of the funeral of a “good man.” Hos 6:2-4 also speaks of a funeral-like atmosphere, with candles burning, lamenting, and even “ashes” being used as a symbol for sorrow. This can help to provide a more overall perspective on the kinds of situations that occur when someone passes. It can provide a way to come to terms with the emotions of a difficult situation, and can provide a spiritual way to reconcile and make sense of things in a hard time.
Psalm 88 also speaks of funerals. It speaks of the author being brought near to the grave, and of being put into the “dungeon”—a metaphor for life’s pains. This kind of palpable imagery gives an additional layer of understanding to the Bible’s view of life, death, and transition.
Furthermore, Jeremiah 22 speaks of funerals as a way to “warn” an audience of its impending judgement. This can be seen in the historical context, in this case referring to the downfall of Jerusalem. However, it can have a more nuanced spiritual application, speaking of the need for repentance and obedience to God’s commands.
Funerals as A Point of Rededication
Funerals can also be a time for rededication to God. Ecclesiastes 8:8 speaks of the need to “gain understanding” in the face of death. Rather than getting stuck in needless thoughts and worries, funerals can help us to refocus our energies on God. In the most difficult of times, funerals can be a place of hope and guidance.
St. Paul also speaks of funerals as a place of transformation. In Romans 8:37-39, he encourages us to move forward in faith once again, despite the difficulties of life. He speaks of absolute confidence emerging from a hard place and being made “conquerors.” This hints at the kind of hope and joy that can come through funerals, that although death can “plop life’s jack-in-the-box at our feet,” we can still move forward in existential courage.
Moreover, there are several accounts in the Gospels of Jesus raising people from the dead. These collections of stories are not necessarily telling us to spit in the face of death, but rather that death can be a time of rejoicing and, even in the darkest of times, we can find comfort in our faith.
Funerals As A Time for Renewal
In some cases funerals can even provide a sense of renewal and energy. Romans 12 speaks of not letting life slip away, but instead embracing a new kind of zeal. Funerals can be a time to renew our commitment to living a life steeped in the beauty of God’s love and mercies, and the courage to fully engage the world around us.
Additionally, Philippians 3 speaks of how funerals can be a time of spiritual allegiance. This can be seen in the original historical context, with Paul’s comments referring to the funeral of King Agrippa and the message it conveyed about God’s power and authority. But on a deeper level, the passage can also refer to our own spiritual allegiance and the need to recommit ourselves to God’s ways.
Finally, 1 Thessalonians 4 speaks of how funerals can be a time of hope and renewal. It speaks of brothers and sisters accepting the inevitability of death, while still rejoicing in the gospel. It encourages us to still celebrate, even in the presence of funeral rites and reminds us to cling to the promises of the gospel and the hope of eternity.
When looking at funerals through the lens of the Bible, you can experience an even deeper connection with and understanding of the ceremonies. From learning about the social and cultural meanings of funerals and the metaphorical implications that are so prevalent, to the hope and joy that come from a time of rededication and renewal, funerals can have a deep and lasting impact.