“Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’” -Rev. 14:13
Christian funerals are intended to be celebrations of life and God’s grace. Jesus Christ has defeated sin, hell, Satan, and death. He arose bodily from the grave on Easter; and because he lives, all true believers in him shall also live. Therefore we celebrate this victory of Christ, because as Christians, his victory is ours as well. The funeral service itself reflects this theme throughout. It involves full participation of the congregation with the singing of hymns, responsive readings, and prayers. It also includes a sermon by the pastor along with appropriate Scripture readings.
Christian funerals are for those who have passed from this life into the next in the Christian faith. The funeral service is intended to be a public testimony of the deceased’s faith in Jesus Christ their Saviour, through whom they have received the forgiveness of sins and therefore have inherited eternal life in the mansions of heaven. This testimony will also provide comfort and strength from God’s Word to those who mourn their loved one’s passing.
Informing your pastor is important in all phases of this process. If someone is very ill or not expected to live very long, your pastor should visit them as soon as possible in order to give them comfort, and help prepare them for what is to come. After someone has passed away, your pastor should be notified immediately in order to provide consolation from God’s Word to those who grieve, as well as to assist the family with making the funeral arrangements and writing an obituary.
The funeral homes (or mortuaries) and funeral directors in Seward (Volzke and Zabka), as well as the surrounding Lincoln Metro area are all fine and reputable establishments, and we do not favor any one over the other. Funeral directors are very dignified professionals who are ready and willing to accommodate the wishes of the family, as well as respecting the traditions of the various faith communities. You should expect excellent service regardless of which funeral home you choose.
As a matter of practical advice, we recommend that people make pre-arrangements with a funeral home whenever possible*. At the time of a loved one’s death, decisions are often stressful and difficult to make. If all the arrangements have been taken care of in advance, then a lot of the emotional stress and even most of the financial burden can be lifted. When you do make such arrangements, be sure that your next of kin and your attorney have the documentation from the funeral home with all of the details. It would be helpful if you also provided a copy of this to your pastor. He can also make record of things such as favorite hymns and Bible passages, and other information regarding your funeral, even if you have no other pre-arrangements. We will assist in every way we can to be sure your wishes are carried out within the realms of good Christian protocol.
There are a wide variety of funeral customs, some of which depend on a person’s ethnic heritage, or even the community in which they live. Some people appreciate having a prayer service at the funeral home the evening before the actual funeral (some refer to this as a “wake”), while others just prefer to have a special designated time when the family will be present at the funeral home. Should you so desire, the church is also available for visitation. Some people even choose to have the casket in the deceased’s home and have the visitation there, although this isn’t as popular today as it was several generations ago. Other things to consider too are: open or closed casket, burial or cremation (and what to do with the ashes), etc. Consulting with your pastor and the funeral director will help you decide what will work best for you.
If the deceased is a member of the armed services, or has served in a branch of the government such as law enforcement, fire department, or political office, there will most likely be some sort of additional ceremony conducted by the organization reflecting such service. The involvement of these organizations or the presence of an honor guard is indeed appropriate and welcomed. These organizations are accustomed to working with the various faith communities, and we will cooperate with them in whatever way we can within the scope of good Christian protocol so your loved one will receive a dignified tribute according to their dedicated service. The involvement of secret societies or other similar fraternal organizations is a different matter, and is generally not an acceptable part of a Christian funeral. A consultation with your pastor will help clarify any questions you might have in this regard.
It is of course desirable to hold the funeral service for a church member in the church building itself. Mighty Fortress is an ideal venue for a funeral, and we can accommodate 125 people easily, and even more with overflow seating. Ample parking is available in the parking lot south of the church, and directly across the street at the Seward Civic Center. Both of the funeral homes in Seward are well acquainted with our facility, and will work with the pastor in assisting you with making the necessary arrangements. Even though the funeral homes have nice chapel facilities, we encourage you to use the church building.
We will also be happy to arrange an organist for the service. Your pastor will work with you in the selection of hymns, solos, and other appropriate music. Secular music is generally not appropriate for a funeral service; however in special circumstances, a favorite song might be included after the service has concluded, provided that it does not contain any theologically questionable content, or is otherwise not offensive in nature. In a similar sense, any poems or sentimental verses will have to be approved for content before they can be used in the funeral service or printed in the worship folder.
A committal service will usually follow the regular funeral service. This takes place at the grave if the deceased is buried, a mausoleum if the deceased is entombed, at a pre-designated place if the deceased’s ashes are scattered, or on board ship if the deceased is to be buried at sea (extremely rare in the State of Nebraska). If there has been a regular funeral service, the committal service will usually be a simple ceremony conducted by the pastor. Military or other rites may then follow afterward. Unless the family specifically requests a private committal (which is rare), this service is open for all to attend. The funeral director will be able to provide guidance and organize whatever arrangements are necessary. If the committal is to take place some distance away, or take place at a different date, special arrangements will have to be made with the pastor for the conducting of the committal service.
In most cases, a funeral lunch is also organized. This gives those attending an opportunity to visit in a more casual atmosphere, and is especially appreciated by those who have had to travel a distance. Our basement fellowship hall is available for this purpose, and is equipped with a full kitchen, plus an ample number of tables and chairs; however the number of people expected will determine how adequate our fellowship area will be. There are other venues suitable for a funeral lunch, which can be used if desired. The funeral committee at Mighty Fortress will assist you in planning and organizing this event, and inform you as to whatever associated costs there may be. Whatever payment is necessary for this will be made directly to the funeral committee.
One of the benefits of church membership is having a Christian funeral conducted by the church. Even so, it is still customary and proper to provide honorariums for the pastor, organist, soloist, and others whose services are necessary. We suggest that you allow the funeral home to provide the honorariums for these people. They know who should be paid and the appropriate amounts that should be paid to each person, the cost of which then becomes part of your total funeral bill.
Funeral services for non-members are decided on an individual basis. If the deceased is not a member of Mighty Fortress, please consult with the pastor so we may determine how we may best serve you.
*NOTE: As is the case with all legal agreements, it is always best to consult with your attorney before you enter into a pre-need or pre-paid arrangement with any funeral home, or before signing any contractual agreement or paying any money. This is not to question the funeral home’s integrity; rather it is just good business sense to receive a professional opinion. You need to be fully aware of what services you will receive for the money paid, what kind of guarantee there is, how your pre-need funds are invested, if such funds can be transferred or refunded, and what additional expenses (if any) that will have to be borne by the family.
Special thanks to the staff at Volzke Funeral Home in Seward, NE for their assistance in the preparation of this article.