QUESTION: I know we have to be careful what songs we pick for funerals, but can we pick any song from our church hymnal? It is full of wonderful songs. Also a funeral is a time to celebrate the life of the one who went to heaven. Most families know what songs their loved one liked and they want to share the joy of music that can give great joy and comfort for the survivors. So is there any reason we can’t pick any hymn from our church hymnal?
ANSWER: It is the duty of the Church to provide a Christian funeral for members. Over the centuries, funeral practices have changed. Today, “the celebration of life” seems to be replacing the Christian funeral throughout the country. According to the funeral industry, “the celebration of life” is another way of saying a memorial service. A Christian funeral is not the same as a “celebration of life.” Our church owes its members a Christian funeral.
When a pastor is notified of the death of a church member, his immediate duty is to visit mourning members. He will bring the comfort of the Gospel. It is a most appropriate time for a pastoral visit and one of the most important services of a pastor. Jesus came into this world to conquer death on behalf of sinners. The pastor will consult with the family of the deceased or others charged with planning as to scheduling. He may ask if they want a special Bible passage for the sermon and favorite hymns.
We are careful about the music we choose. The purpose of the Christian funeral is to comfort those mourning. It is a service of worship. We worship Jesus. He is our God and Savior. He became one with us at Christmas for a specific purpose, as we read in Hebrews 2:14–15: Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
By His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus earned for each of us the forgiveness of sins and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to life eternal. At a time of mourning Christians rejoice in Jesus’ promise: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).
Our Lutheran hymnbooks are filled with great hymns praising the Savior. It is entirely fitting to choose a favorite of the departed loved one from the hymnbook. Some favorite hymns are not from the hymnbook. They may or may not be fitting for a Lutheran funeral. The pastor will help with those selections.
Hymnbooks have suggestions for hymns for death and burial. We need not limit ourselves to those. Christians mourn, but not as others who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13ff.). We also rejoice that our Christian dead are with Christ. We bury our Christian dead in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto life everlasting. Hymns of joy and comfort are most appropriate. Resurrection hymns speak to the very situation in which we find ourselves. We are not limited to these choices.
The pastor will welcome appropriate suggestions from our hymnbook. Mourners, in their grief, may not be able to remember particular hymns. The pastor will help.
There are other considerations: the difficulty of the hymn, the size of the congregation, and others. Some prefer to have soloists. And again, any appropriate hymn from our hymnbook could be used.
Rev. Charles Keeler
Resurrection Lutheran Church
Winter Haven, FL