Hope amidst sorrow: death, funerals, and the power of the Gospel

It’s been a difficult autumn at my church—in the last few weeks, three members of our church family have passed away. And last week I attended the funeral of a former coworker. At the risk of sounding morbid, death and funerals have been on my mind a lot lately.

Although it might seem strange, I’ve found that Christian funerals are among the most powerful and uniquely Christian experiences I’ve ever encountered. Every funeral is different, and the experience of attending a funeral varies greatly depending on the circumstances of the death and other contexts. But if you’ve ever attended a funeral where the Gospel message was clearly proclaimed, perhaps you know what I’m talking about: there is nothing so powerful as hearing about the hope of Jesus Christ when you’re face-to-face with the tangible evidence of pain, sorrow, and death.

Hearing the Gospel message in those circumstances is not always a happy experience for me. Sometimes it provokes bittersweet joy, as in the case of somebody whose death came as a relief from long suffering. Sometimes it makes me angry—angry at this broken, sin-filled world, and angry at God for allowing death to claim somebody “before their time.” Most times we feel a rush of different emotions as our sorrow intertwines with the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.

The exact reaction varies greatly. But you simply cannot avoid reacting to that Gospel message when you hear it proclaimed at a funeral. You can zone out during a Sunday morning sermon, or daydream during an altar call at church. But at a funeral, the proclamation of the Gospel stands out as a bold, almost ludicrous challenge that cannot be ignored. Joy, sorrow, pain, anger—the Gospel of Jesus demands a response. In those moments, I feel the true force of Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

You can hear the Gospel preached and discussed in a lot of places. In church. At retreats or Christian events. In Bible studies and small group fellowships. But if you want to witness the Gospel with all of its power to proclaim hope amidst the horror of sin and death, perhaps that message is most clear when it is spoken amidst the pain and sorrow of a funeral.

3 Responses to “Hope amidst sorrow: death, funerals, and the power of the Gospel”

  • Prem says:

    Good and comfortiing message

  • David Lim says:

    My father passed away a month ago. At his funeral wake, the gospel was preached in Chinese and many of our relatives heard about Jesus and the gift of salvation for the first time in their lives.

  • Tucker says:

    My husband and I attended the funeral of a young woman last week. She died a terrible death due to wrong choices and self-sufficiency. Many tried to reach out and share the love of Christ, to no avail. She was a Christian, but had no relationship with Him and never experienced that fullness on the earth. Her funeral glorified her life and her faith (in worldly pleasures) that led to spiritual and ultimately physical death. It was sadly a missed opportunity to share the gospel truth with all in attendance. I agree with your statements above and wish it had been approached differently.