The Apostolic Constitutions are a series of 4th century documents that give insight into the early Christian church. In it, Christians were instructed, “In the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing, if they were faithful in Christ” (6.30.2).
It has become my custom to conclude every funeral sermon by singing a hymn stanza. Often, it has been one of the last stanzas I sang with the person before they died, if we had that opportunity. Other times, it was simply appropriate to the sermon text, theme, or to the life of the person. In either case, it is my way of taking one small gem of our beautiful hymnody and passing it on to the congregation and the gathered family and friends. Our hymnody is so rich that I’ve hardly, if at all, had to use the same stanza more than once.
This week I had two funerals, a wife on Monday and her husband on Friday. On Monday it was “Lord, let at last your angels come” for we had spoken of the angels at Jesus’ tomb who were there to roll the stone away and announce the resurrection. But it is over us that God has given his angels charge, until they carry us to His side. Today, it was “In peace and joy I now depart” in regard to a husband who was ready to depart in peace, not only because he knew his bride was safe in the arms of Jesus, but also and more importantly because he knew that Jesus was his life, and “death is but a slumber.”
I’m pretty sure I’ve done this with all sixteen of the funerals I have conducted since coming here (I counted today). On these days, while I am filled with sympathy for those who mourn, I am also unspeakably grateful to have been able to serve these dear saints with Jesus’ Word and Sacrament, and now to speak the comfort and confidence of the resurrection to those who mourn.