Funeral Sermons

A fair number of people have found this site by searching for funeral sermon material. Therefore, I might as well make some comments.

I clearly have developed a pattern and am filled with biases about funeral sermons over my years as an ordained pastor.

I believe that a Christian funeral should ultimately be about Christ. What does the Christian promise hold for those who die and those who live? Christ’s death and resurrection mean something. There is no denial of death in the Christian funeral. There is no denial of sin in the Christian funeral. There is no denial of the need of God’s grace in a Christian funeral. If those are not lifted up, we probably don’t have a Christian funeral.

Having said that, the funeral is not the time for an “altar call” or to drive the assembled family and friends into the arms of Christ. Simple statements about the impact or importance of faith are usually sufficient. A simple homily, very focused is usually best. It is hard for family and friends to endure long or complicated proclamations of the Gospel. My pattern is usually to acknowledge the loss, to give thanks to God for placing the person in our lives to know and to love, and to recall the promises of God in Christ (forgiveness of sins and everlasting life). Beyond that, the funeral liturgy is allowed to speak as it has for centuries.

There are many “Celebration of Life” services available, and this is becoming the usual thing people request. The person’s life can be acknowledged in the loss and the giving thanks to God sections of the homily. There is nothing inherently wrong with a “Celebration of Life” except that too often the emphasis solely on the deceased and usually one particular view of that person’s life. A Celebration of Life might not include Christ at all. It is rare that an eulogy is done well. (If pastors would stop making their relationship with the deceased normative, that would go a long way to improving the funeral sermon.) Consider that each person’s relationship with the deceased is different. Each have their own disappointments, their joys, their struggle, and their wonderful memories. The funeral sermon should be shaped so that people might be able to recall elements of their own relationship with the deceased.

The funeral service should be long enough to know that something significant has happened, and not so long that people begin looking at their watches. Funerals are places where people who normally don’t attend a worship service might have experience with Christian worship. It should be relatively easy to follow without compromising the integrity of the funeral liturgy. The funeral is no time to get “cute” and “innovative”. The liturgy has developed out of faithful experience over the centuries and should be maintained.

When the military is involved.  I try to finish the Christian burial pieces, and then let the military conduct the services without trying to integrate the two.  It just seems to work better.

Oh, and be sure that the cell phones are off.

Pondering Pastor


21 responses to “Funeral Sermons

  1. Stanley E. De Veaux


    Thanks for your comments about funeral sermons and related material.

    I am preparing for a memorial serivice for a young man who was killed in New York City.


    Stan De Veaux

  2. Thank you pondering Pastor. I just came in from doing my aunt’s service. As I read about how to do a service I was amazed of how much of what you said I did, except for one thing, I did do an altar call. This was my second funeral service I have done. I just did my brother’s six months ago. But I thank God because the Holy Spirit is the one who led me to do it that way. So I believe what you say is true and once again thank you. I thought it didn’t go to well but most of everything you said, I did tonight. Now I just have tomorrow’s morning service. Thanks for your help Pastor and God bless you. Oh, and the reason I’ve only done two funerals is because I’m new to the pastoral calling. God bless and keep up the good work.

  3. I came to this web site for the very reason you stated in your opening sentence … I am looking for funeral sermon help, specifically an illustration or two other than the usual sappy poems and ditties that one finds. As a Pastor of 35 years, I want to add my ditto to your comments; you’re solidly right on! Thanks.

  4. holyvernacular

    well said!

  5. I am browsing for funeral mtrl that is a departure from the same ole’..same ole’.

  6. ponderingpastor

    Who’s bored with it? The pastor? The hearers? If the pastor is bored, then maybe it is time to check to see what the pastor believes, because often doubt creeps in to make it boring. If it is the hearers, then that’s a whole different matter.

    My 2 cents.

    Pondering Pastor

  7. I am sorry to hear that you believe a Celebration of Life, is too much about the deceased!
    WHOA…I hardly know how to respond to that!

    A Funeral, Memorial or a Celebration of Life IS all about the person who has passed, are you kidding? It is not meant to be an ‘alter call’ to push YOUR view of God on the unsuspecting family… unless that was the desire of the person who has parted!
    Shame on you for having your agenda be more important than that of the family or their loved ones!

    • ponderingpastor

      A Christian funeral is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of the promise Christ makes to us. A Celebration of Life usually is about the person who has died, (and yes, I prefer the real term “died” rather than the “passed” language). I don’t do “altar calls” (note the spelling please). I’m consistent with Christian tradition for centuries rather than denial-of-death and avoidance of Gospel. Of course, I’m steeped in a Christian religious tradition rather than cultural accommodation.

      Pondering Pastor

  8. I am hoping you are the person who would be able to help my and my fellow co-workers. We have a loved work-family member who has been through such a hard time. She comes from a big family and just lost her sister this spring and now has lost her mother. When we attended the funeral for her sister – there were several churches (of the surviving family members and of the deceasesed’s) brought forth Proclamations. This was the first funeral I had attended where these were offered to the family. There was also a proclamation which came from one of the family member’s work-places (a school).
    At our friends’ funeral, I am hoping to be able to also offer up a praclamation from our own school, however, am not sure about the elements which one should contain. Would you be able to share with me either an example of one, an outline for one, or a general guide which we might follow.
    I am sorry if this doesn’t fit within this thread, but do sincerely thank you, in advance, for answering my letter.

  9. I’m a little confused about what you are asking, but assuming I’m reading you right, how about looking at these suggestions for an eulogy. This isn’t what I do, but it may help you.

    Pondering Pastor

  10. I’m going to be conducting a memorial service for someone whose spiritual condition is unknown. You’re instruction has given me help in preparing this memorial service.
    I agree that Christ, his sacrifice for sin and hope of eternal life by trusting in him as Savior should be a focal point of the service.
    If, after the service, all that people are left to ponder is their memories of the deceased with no hope of eternal life, then we have done the living and the dead a disservice.
    Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  11. heartofapastor

    Amen…thank you for this post.

    I too get concerned with the ‘Celebration of Life” services. I had a woman tell me once that when she dies that I am to talk about her. I told her that the funeral is about Jesus and she got feisty with me. I figured that it didn’t pay to argue with her at that time because when her funeral does come, I will preach Jesus…period.

  12. I have written 413 funerals during my ministry, all but the first 25-30 of which were intentional celebrations of the lives of the people who had died. With all due respect to other points of view expressed in this forum, I offer a few observations that lie behind my very passionate convictions about this matter:

    1) People attend funerals first because there was something about the deceased person’s life that thrilled, inspired, encouraged, taught, supported, and/or loved…etc. them. One of my principal learnings over those 400+ funerals is that people go because of someone’s life, not his or her death; death is only the trigger that makes the funeral necessary. It is pastoral neglect not to focus on the life of the person who has died when it is precisely that life that has brought people to the funeral. (Troubled by that? Think Paul to the Corinthians: When he is among the poor…Gentiles…Jews…he first finds common ground. What kind of common ground can we find with people, most of whose attentions we have for no more than the funeral’s 30 minutes? The life of the person who has died!)

    2) People also go to funerals in hopes that those they meet there — friends, family, and pastors — will assist their efforts to understand, cope, and move on from their loss. This is, of course, fertile spiritual territory, but I have discovered that in the very limited (and limiting) context of a funeral service, among the primary grieving recovery resources we can offer people is highlighting for them what they already know — the blessing of the person who has died. No wonder they hurt, no wonder they cry: He/She was a gift from God.

    3) People who attend funerals — especially family members and close friends of the deceased — are emotionally quite vulnerable. Pursuits of spiritual decisions from people in such a state transform funeral conductors into ecclesiastical ambulance chasers, or a form of those salespeople who scan obit sections looking for gullible new customers. There are good and proper times to pursue spiritual decisions; funerals are not one of them.

    Earlier today I conducted the funeral of my cousin who last week committed suicide. God poured out through me one of the most poignant, agonizing, tearful, and exuberant CELEBRATIONS OF LIFE I have ever written. The result? Many of the non-Christians in the crowd (there were lots) had a positive encounter with the Christian faith, which left them more likely to be receptive to future encounters. Such a good result would not have occurred had I not intentionally, exclusively met them at their point of need, affirmed their grief and doubt, and honored the life they so treasured. I would not have done it any other way. I cannot imagine this fundamental approach — honed over 27+ years and 400+ events — ever changing.

    Thanks for reading this. Blessings to you and your ministry.

    Bill Coley

  13. I am writing my first funeral sermon, and I think I got that squared away, but I have no clue what to do for the Grave site service. What does one normally say at those?

    • In traditional liturgical churches, the graveside service is simply some prayers, scripture reading, and commendation of the body/ashes to God and to its resting place. Additional comments are unnecessary, although circumstances may permit a very quick additional connection between those circumstances and God’s grace. For instance, on a rainy day, I’ve commented on the raindrops on the casket as a reminder of baptism. You’ve already said what needs to be said at the service. The graveside is a continuation of that service, not something new.

  14. Hi, Tina,

    My graveside services are compact versions of my conventional services, the ones held in funeral homes or churches. I welcome people, tell them that we’re here to acknowledge a death but also celebrate a life, pray, read scripture, give a moment of silence for people to remember/honor in their own way, then take 5-7 minutes to paint word pictures about the person’s life intending to remind people of the life they came to celebrate. I close with a final word, some verses in Psalm 91, and then a closing blessing. Total time, about 10-13 minutes.

    For me, the only difference between graveside and conventional services is how long they last. Graveside services are written from scratch every time – just like the conventional ones, and the intention is identical: to help people acknowledge death and celebrate life in the context of the hope of our faith.

    Hope this helps,
    Bill Coley

  15. Tina,

    Now that I have re-read your question, I realize you’re not asking about graveside-only funerals (which is what I wrote about in the post above); you’re asking about the graveside component of the conventional funeral/graveside experience. My apologies.

    When a graveside service follows a funeral at a church or funeral home, it lasts no more than two minutes for me. I welcome people, remind them that a funeral is only a small piece of their personal journeys looking back on the life of their loved one – journeys that will last their lifetimes – read from the 91st Psalm, say a prayer, and offer a closing blessing. As I indicated, my part of the graveside experience lasts no more than a couple of minutes. My intention, however, is to connect what happens at the graveside with whatever theme I developed during the main funeral service.

    Sorry to have misread your original question.

    Bill Coley

  16. I have a funeral service and this is the first one I have ever done. I wanted to know if you could give me some help on scripture. Thanks…

    • My default Scripture readings for funerals is Psalm 23, Romans 8:31-35, 37-39, and John 14:1-6.

    • Here are the texts I use at nearly every funeral:
      Psalm 27:1; Isaiah 43:2-3a; John 11:25b-26a; 1 Corinthians 15:42b-44a; Romans 8:38-39

      I read a portion of Psalm 91 at the graveside, or, if there is no committal service, at the end of the service held at the church or funeral home.

      I also always ask the family whether they have favorite texts they’d like me to include. Only a few times (out of 434) has anyone made a request, but Psalm 23 is the most frequent add-on.

      Blessings to your ministry,
      Bill Coley

  17. Why can’t the funeral be about both God and the deceased person? As a Pastor, I find that it IS possible to highlight the good memories shared by loved ones and friends and then ultimately turn the listener’s thoughts to God and the gifts of Salvation and eternal life. I do this because it is really sad to leave a funeral service of a dear loved one who was only mentioned in passing by the officiant……and no details of their life given other than what was in the obituary.

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