When I tell other pastors that I hate weddings and love funerals, they smile knowingly. Of course, the dark humor rings true with them—every pastor I know can tell a “wedding from hell” story, and all pastors can think of a few funerals at which they’d love to preside. In my colleagues’ smiles I also see an understanding, born from firsthand experience, that funerals—and the events that precede and follow them—present some of the most meaningful opportunities for pastors to witness to the grace and love of God.
My passion for funerals has led me to research the historic Christian practices of marking the arrival of death. Since so many generations of Christians lived before dying people were confined to hospitals, they spent their entire lives surrounded by death and dying. As pastors we can draw on their wisdom in ministering to modern people, who struggle so mightily when confronted with the reality of death.