In that biblical, Trinitarian manner, they say funerals come in threes – that is, three in close proximity to each other.
Indeed, we have had a number of burial services of late, which is not unusual in a sizable parish. Baptizing, marrying and burying the faithful is a blessed part of what we do. Helping people get a proper start in life and marriage is the church’s obligation. Being with people at the end of life, with assurance and dignity, is in our DNA.
In the Anglican tradition, burial services are patterned after ancient Easter liturgies. Our Book of Common Prayer explains this well: “The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.” (p. 507)
I rejoice in the fact that Episcopal funerals make clear that death is not the end of the story. While our hearts are naturally sad with loss, I am grateful for the confidence that we are resurrected with Christ.
One of the distinctive aspects of Episcopal burial offices is the reading of scripture as the procession begins. Because I grew up as a non-Episcopalian, as an organist I was accustomed to playing softly while the family entered and clergy entered.
In our tradition, the prelude ends, the steeple bell sounds and the procession begins. Encouraging, strong verses of scripture are read as the cross, ministers and body enter. Our Gospel lesson this Sunday (April 2) contains one of those traditional verses:
I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:25)
When a choir is present in Anglican funerals, sometimes it sings settings of these scripture verses to begin the burial office. There are numerous settings, but none is more beautiful than the Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) setting. A link is provided below.
In this Lenten season, as we continue to look forward toward the Resurrection, may we give thanks for those who have gone before us and for the assurance that death is not the end.
Listen to “The Burial Sentences: I am the Resurrection” by Tudor English composer Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656).