Robert and Adrienne Brizee wrote an article in Creative Transformation about facilitating a memorial service with the "goal of promoting healing." This is an important yet difficult part of congregational ministry. So I thought I'd share the article:
A Process of Healing in Six Movements
Prelude: On behalf of the [name] family I thank you for sharing in this memorial service for [name]. As we begin, I invite you to focus upon two images. The first is that as we share these moments together we are encircled by God’s grace. God is as close to us as our own breath and the words that form on our lips. We are cherished. The second is that in some other dimension in some form [name] is entering God’s heavenly community and is well.
1. We Acknowledge the Reality of Death in Order to Express Our Pain, Grief, and Loss
The first step we need to take is to acknowledge death and our feelings in response to death. Death is harsh and unkind to the human body. Energy is stilled. Creativity ended. A voice is
In the web of relationships in which we live, death grabs and rips out an important thread. There is one less strand—wife, mother, mother-in-law, sister, friend, neighbor, colleague. We may join with John Donne is stating, “Do not send to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Death destroys our plans, dashes our future dreams, and erases our calendar. In this moment it is appropriate to acknowledge and express pain, loss, and grief.
2. We Stand in Silent Awe of this Moment.
In this moment we are brought face to face with mystery. No words are adequate: “Let all
mortal flesh keep silence . . .” Nothing can be done. Though we may stand in shock, shed tears, or shake our fists at the sky, we are rendered truly helpless. The question emerges with great power: What does all this mean? And like Moses before the “burning bush” we hear, “Take off your shoes for the ground upon which you stand is holy ground.”
3. We Confess our Incompleteness to Remove Our Regret and Remorse
Often death catches us off guard, it comes unexpectedly as a thief in the night allowing us no opportunity to voice our regrets, guilt, or remorse. So let us speak now that which we did not speak earlier. We make confession for:
Compliments we could have given and did not, gratitude felt but unexpressed, notes thought about but not written, invitations considered but not extended, issues raised yet left unsettled, anger harbored but not expressed, harsh words hastily spoken, closeness and intimacy which were not developed, opportunities presented which were missed, caring experienced within but not shared outwardly, all intentions which were not transformed into actions.
Let us identify with another who confessed. The Prodigal rehearsed well before meeting the Waiting Parent, “I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” He not only planned his confession but also defined how his parent would receive him. And yet he never did speak his well rehearsed confession, for he was accepted home just as he was.
In like manner, let us be free, fully restored, and unburdened! Just as we are!
4. We Celebrate the Life of [name] to Share Our Gratitude
Now we have opportunity to share our experiences with [name].
5. We Hear Words of Hope for [name] and for Us
A number of artists working in their own media—oil, water color, wood, and clay—share with us
symbols and images of hope. A number of voices in chorus are singing of hope. Let us look, let us listen, to find those images and sounds of hope which speak to us.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want . . . and I shall dwell in
the house of the Lord forever.” - Psalm 23
“Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there!” - Psalm 139:7-10
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” - Luke 23.43
“In my Father’s house are many rooms . . .” - John 14:2
“I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, though they die, will live.” - John 11:25
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor heights, nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans 8:37
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth . . . and God will be with them. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more.” - Revelation 21:1
The early church sang: “Jesus stand among us in Thy risen power.”
And the medieval mass proclaimed, “Requiem aeternam, dona eis Domine.”
So, likewise, I proclaim this hope to you: “God feels with us, whispers to us, saves each of our moments, and cherishes everlastingly our entire lives in God’s own life.”
A Hymn, Vocal or Instrumental Solo
Gracious One, we acknowledge Your presence among us gathered here. We are grateful for all who today surround [name’s] family.
We are thankful for the rich variety of gifts which [name] has shared with us. We are comforted to know that [name] is warmly held in Your arms, just as You comfort us who are present here.
May we depart in peace and wholeness, living in the assurance of Your grace. In the name of
Jesus Christ. Amen.
6. We Re-Affirm our Lives Answering, “How, then, Shall We Live?”
Each of us will make affirmations which are meaningful to us at this awesome moment. Allow me to offer three: First, that we not attempt to predict or to control life, but rather be open and responsive to the ways life may unfold for us; that we know that each present moment is precious, living fully now and hopefully for the future; and that we know that there is no certainty in our lives other than that grace encircles us in each tiny moment and in each
A Closing Hymn
Benediction: May the peace of God which passes all understanding be with us and abide with us always. Amen.