I have been toying with the concept for some time now but have been reluctant to give it voice. That is until I found an author who expressed in writing what I have been thinking. The concept is how we as Christians process grief over the loss of a loved one. I have been theologically and emotionally uncomfortable as of late with the Christian memorial service. Leslie Allen, in his book, A Liturgy of Grief: A Pastoral Commentary on Lamentations (Baker, 2011), seems to agree: “Now a funeral service may be reduced to an ostensibly more healthy form of a celebration of life” (5). The funeral service where grief was expected and approved has been replaced by the “Christian” memorial service. It is in this setting that grief is set aside to joyously remember the LIFE of the recently departed—many times within the same week! To show grief seems to be out of step with this “more healthy” ceremony since one is to “remember the good things” and not dwell on the terrible fact that a loved one is dead and now you are alone. I would suggest there is no health gained by “skipping” grief. The Lament Psalms give biblical proof of the need to give voice to our pain.
I was at a “memorial” service a year or so ago. The person who led the service actually addressed the audience with this opening remark, “It is time to move on.” Not a week before a young couple had just lost a baby!—I doubt they were ready to move on. They probably wondered why time moved at all.
We have become averse to grief—even as Christians. I wonder if we have Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians out of balance (1 Thess 4:13). Are we interpreting “…that you may not grieve, as do the rest…” as an imperative not to grieve at all? Or do we believe that grieving is a sign of spiritual immaturity, a demonstration of a lack of faith in God? Neither is true, since Jesus grieved over the death of his friend even though he knew he was going to raise him from the dead in a few moments! Allen rightly observes, “Contemporary Western culture provides little space for grief (Ibid.).
And if one is overcome with grief and it spills out (whether there is space for it or not), the sufferer is immediately soothed with such miserable clichés as, “It will be all right” or “You’ll get over it.” Neither statement is true. Loss it not something that is “all right” or something to get over. Loss is something one learns to live with. It is adapting to absence—in every aspect of life. But in learning to live with loss there must be opportunity to rail against the absence (and that, not alone). Unfortunately, it does not seem that the contemporary Christian “memorial service” is such a venue for grieving.