Is is Okay to Not Have a Funeral?

Dr. Roger Barrier

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at roger@preachitteachit.org.

Dear Roger,

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I'm not interested in having a funeral when I pass away. My question is… did Jesus have a funeral and is it alright NOT to have one?

Sincerely,

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Pete

Dear Pete, 

SEE ALSO: What Does the Bible Say about Cremation?

It is okay not to have a funeral.

However, here are some thoughts to consider as you make your decision.

A funeral is not necessarily for you; it’s for the ones you leave behind.

While you’re alive, you certainly have the primary input into what you’d like to include in your funeral service. For most people these are the things for which they’d like to be remembered. But, but keep in mind your target audience.

Here’s some reasons why you might want to have a funeral service.

It’s like, “Well, it’s time to begin moving along.” There comes a time when it’s okay to pick up the pieces and start over.

An eulogy can provide an overview of the life of the departed. This is especially important to help people fill in the gaps since most people only knew the deceased at different times in his/her life.

Sometimes the loved one is not very lovable. He/she may have caused such pain and hurt that it may be best not to have a funeral at all.

What stands out most in biblical burials is an intense time of grief and mourning.

Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5: 4) 

According to the biblical examples, there ought to be a lot of tears at a funeral. Grieving is one of the five or six essential stages that can facilitate healing. 

  1. Shock
  2. Denial
  3. Grief
  4. Anger
  5. Depression
  6. Resolution

These stages often occur in this order but usually not. Often we suffer a mixture of two or more simultaneously.

Don’t try to mourn alone. After all, it takes one to mourn and one to comfort.

What do biblical burials look like?

Much mourning took place. (Deuteronomy 34:8)

Shaved heads, sackcloth, and ashes demonstrated deep grief. (Isaiah 61:3)

Torn clothes were associated with grief and loss. (Genesis 37:29; Psalm 30:11)

Bodies were washed the same day as the death in order to minimize the effects of decomposition. (John 11:39)

Aromatic spices were sprinkled into the burial cloth as it was wrapped around the body. (John 19:40)

Most individuals were buried in the ground. (Jeremiah 26:23) Others were laid to rest in caves or sepulchers hewn out of limestone. (Matthew 26:12)

As best as I can tell, Jesus never had a funeral. After Pilate condemned him, he was dragged straight to Golgotha where he was crucified. If Jesus had any kind of funeral it would be the short eulogy delivered by one of the thieves on the cross: “This man has done nothing wrong.”

Then they took the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. (John 19:40)

All that being said, it’s okay for you not to have a funeral if you so choose. Personally, the following process is a little unorthodox, but you might consider including your loved ones as you make your final decisions.

I hope my thoughts are helpful and I hope that God grants you many wonderful years ahead.

Sincerely, Roger

Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/kzenon

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