I went to a secular funeral recently. It was for a perfectly decent bloke, a distant relative whom I'd not seen for 10 years or so.
He'd had a child. He had a job. He had a heart attack so he had slowed down a bit.
I believe it was a secular funeral because that's what the undertakers like around there. The celebrant was bland, moderately cheerful, working on thin material. She had no great promises to offer, no need to make us fear our own eventual judgements, no decent corps of scripture and tradition to lean back on. When her own words failed, in between the Country and Western songs, she fell back - without acknowledging it - on the words of Old Ecclesiastes himself. She told us there is a time to live and a time to die. Didn't mention there being a time to lift my hands up high. Don't suppose she knew that song either.
She also didn't mention that the whole thing is vanity, and a chasing after the wind. Which is a shame. As at least that would give everyone something to talk about while consuming the funeral tea. But a secular funeral is always gonna be retrospective, I guess. There's nothing to look forward to but egg and cress sandwiches and a glass of sherry.
My uncle when he died had a Christian funeral. At the end we heard a piece of music he'd chosen specially for the occasion (before he went - there was no funny business going on). "Please don't Talk About me When I'm Gone". Which seems a pretty good one for a secular funeral, ironically. Better than "My Way", at any rate.
This was all sparked off by reading Giles Fraser's piece on Cilla Black's funeral Mass. I hate it when I agree with Giles Fraser about something. But there's a sense of responsibility in a Christian funeral. You're going to answer for what you did, or didn't, achieve with your life - just like everybody else. If you've always depended on your own resources, and not shared with those who can't depend on their own - you may discover your resources are pretty thin-stretched to last eternity. If you've heard and responded to the cries of those in need, you may get a shock when you you discover that, without realising it, you've actually been recognising the Creator. And the rest of us, if we cling in the shadow and stability of the Rock, may escape as those who have been pulled from a fire.
A secular funeral depends on the good character and interesting deeds of the dead person, and the oratorical skills and empathy of the celebrant. A Christian one, on the character of the One who sent us, and to whom we will be accountable. And I know that truth doesn't depend upon the story that is better. But it's still a better story. When it's my turn, I hope I'll cling to that Rock. And hope Mary will pray for my soul.
Take it away, Willie...