Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Flamboyant to the end, entertainer James Brown died on Monday, Christmas day. On Thursday, he was transported in a 24-karat gold casket to the Apollo Theater in New York by a horse-drawn hearse for public viewing. The following day family and friends held a private funeral service at the Carpentersville Baptist Church in North Augusta, South Carolina. Celebrities and fans filled the James Brown Arena in Augusta, Georgia for a public viewing and service on Saturday. These occasions were marked with tears, but also with joy and music, more a celebration of his life than a time of mourning.

Gerald Ford, the thirty-eighth President of the United States, died last Tuesday, the day after Christmas. His body was transported from California to Washington D.C. in a flag-draped coffin. As I write this, his body lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda. President George W. Bush and his wife Laura, along with other dignitaries, have paid their respects. A military honor guard watches over his coffin. On Tuesday, his body will be flown to Grand Rapids, Michigan for a private funeral service on Wednesday. Mourners face the cameras with a stiff upper lip. There is no cheering or dancing for a former President, only somber and dignified ceremony.

Planning a funeral is often done at the moment of necessity. Customs and preferences differ, but basically people gather to show respect for the deceased and to support the bereaved. Sometimes there is a visitation at the funeral home and a large funeral service. Some families opt for quiet graveside services. Today there is the option of cremation – not the choice of many, but in certain situations a financial necessity. There is a wide range of casket types and colors. Although it does seem to befit the lifestyle of James Brown, a 24-karat gold casket is not one of the most popular selling models.

A former President often helps to plan his own funeral – in advance, of course – just as Gerald Ford did. Protocol dictated a certain amount of pomp and ceremony, but where possible he avoided some of the trappings of grandeur, such as the hearse that transported his casket to the Capitol instead of a caisson followed by a riderless horse with boots reversed in the stirrups and an empty saddle.

Planning and perhaps pre-paying for one’s own funeral is becoming more popular. In many ways this undoubtedly helps lighten the load on the family at an emotional time, but there can be snags in keeping the deceased’s wishes. Even in times of grief, families do not always agree on what to do or who is responsible for what, even when everything is in writing.

I could not afford a gold casket, but even if I could, I have no desire to be buried in one. That’s not my style. Neither is a somber public ceremony. I never gave it much thought before, but I think I would like a simple graveside funeral, attended by family and friends who might miss me enough to shed a tear or two, and yet love me enough to celebrate my life after the funeral with some good food and lots of laughter. A simple headstone will suffice. After all, I will not be there to enjoy the view. A dead woman does not live in her grave. It is only a place where her body returns to the dust from which God created it.

What is most memorable about a funeral is the outpouring of love and support displayed to the surviving family members. When they know with undivided assurance the loved one died in Christ, they have peace to accept the loss. For those in Christ, death is only the end of physical life. Christ conquered the grave when he died and was resurrected.

As a flesh and blood human being, I can not inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 15:50), but I have hope in Christ of a resurrection to eternal life. That hope is much more valuable than a gold casket or a public funeral ceremony.


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