As a boy preacher, I accompanied my father to many funerals he officiated. I probably attended more funerals as a youth than most people attend in their lifetime.
My dad never allowed me to do anything in the services. But he often had me assist him during the processional before the service and the committal after the service.
As my dad led the family in the processional, he would read Psalm 91 as he walked down the aisle. Always Psalm 91. He frequently asked me to read the passage as I walked alongside him.
One time, I started reading Psalm 23 (A pretty good funeral passage, don’t you think?). He stopped me midway and told me to read Psalm 91. He never explained why he chose this passage for the opening processional. But, if you read or study Psalm 91, his reasons become apparent.
After the service, my dad and I often rode to the cemetery in the hearse – quite an experience for a young man, I might add. During the closing graveside service, my dad read the committal. It was the other time he would help me participate. He handed me his The Star Book for Ministers and told me to read the committal for him.
I read that little committal speech so many times that I unconsciously set it to memory. I was glad to get to do something besides watch and learn. But I wanted to do something in the service. I didn’t want to be stuck doing the closing part of the funeral at the cemetery. One day, however, it dawned on me that I was doing the most Christian part of a Christian funeral. The funeral committal is filled with the hope of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The committal is a statement of faith in which we entrust the physical remains of the deceased person into God’s sovereign, gracious, and eternal care. It is a hope-filled answer to the agelong question: “If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14)
Jesus answered Job’s questions centuries later. Ironically, he answered the ultimate questions about life, death, and eternity at the graveside of a beloved friend. To Lazarus’ grieving sister, Martha, Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believers in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26).
Picture the scene. A pastor stands before a grieving family. They may have been comforted by the hymns sung, prayers offered, and scriptures read during the funeral. But now, as they sit before a casket suspended over an open grave, the sting of finality stirs up grief again. The cemetery may be quiet. But the rows of surrounding grave markers all yell out, “Death has won again!”
Then, the pastor calls everyone to attention. He may not speak loudly enough for everyone huddled around the grave to understand. But I believe death, hell, and the grave all hear as he gives the committal. With hope that transcends the grave – which is only available in the Lord Jesus – the preacher declares:
Inasmuch, as it has pleased Almighty God to take out of this world the soul of our deceased brother/sister, we therefore commit his/her body to the ground – earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; looking for the general resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come through Jesus Christ our Lord, at whose second coming in glorious majesty to judge the world – the earth and the sea shall give up their dead, and the corruptible bodies of those that sleep in him shall be changed and make likened to his own glorious body, with the power with which he is able to make all things submit to Himself. Amen.
After answering the question of the ages, Jesus asked a question. Your answer to the Lord’s question is the difference between hope and despair: “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26).