Monday, April 16, 2018

When the Pastor Speaks at a Graveside Service
Geoffrey R. Kirkland
Christ Fellowship Bible Church

It’s a time of loss and a time when the cruel effects of sin stand visibly before our eyes, when you stand in a graveyard with the casket there ready to be lowered into the ground, what does a minister of the gospel say? With immediate family, a host of extended family members, and others who have have gathered for the occasion, how can a pastor shepherd with gentle care, proclaim biblical truth, and be unwavering in gospel-courage at such an emotional place? Here is one approach that I took recently when I spoke at a graveside ceremony. I took as my text the opening few verses of Psalm 90 on the character of God and then later on in the psalm when Moses calls us to number our days to present to God a heart of wisdom.  In this brief 5-minute message outside, at the graveside, next to the casket carrying the body of the deceased, I presented some lessons for us.

I exhorted everyone present to take this occasion to look in various directions.

1. Look BACKWARD —
On such an occasion as standing in a graveyard with many family members, it’s imperative to get quickly and clearly to the cross-event. I took it as an opportunity to call all who were present to consider looking backward at another death, one that happened long ago, in Jerusalem. Not just to another man, but to the Divine Son of God. I chose to begin here as it provided me a way to get immediately to the hope of the gospel found in Jesus Christ alone.

2. Look DOWNWARD — Secondly, I called everyone standing outside to look downward. That is, I asked them to gaze to the ground, the dust, the dirt, the clods of clay. Look down and see the large hole in the ground that has been dug. Look at the casket that will be lowered there momentarily. See the dust of the earth. I then reminded every single person that this will be you one day. One day your very own body will return to the dust of the earth just like the deceased body that lies here. We do well to remind people on this occasion of the brevity of life.

3. Look UPWARD — But right then, at that point, I transitioned quickly to something bigger and greater still to come in the future for true believers. (And I made that very clear that this is the hope for the Christian; the one who is in Christ.) That is, we look upward to the hope of Christ’s coming in the clouds (1 Thess 4:13-18) when Christ returns to catch up those who are His to meet Him in the clouds. The dead in Christ will rise first and meet the Lord in the air and then the others who remain on earth will instantaneously be snatched up to meet them in the clouds. Yes, this day is soon-coming! This is the sure and comforting hope for the Christian!

4. Look FORWARD — Moses calls his readers to number our days so that we may present to God a heart of wisdom. There’s a sense in which every person standing on that cross, at that gravesite needs to number his days and recognize the future, though known to God, is unknown to us. I exhorted those present to be wise, to look forward and consider death and turn to Christ in saving faith so as to present to Him a heart of wisdom, fearing God, turning from sin, and walking in holiness.

5. Look INWARD — Finally, after these brief words, I summoned everyone to look internally (not in a self-introspective way, of course). I called everyone to truly examine their souls and ask themselves if they, in their own hearts, are really trusting Christ Jesus alone as the only One who can save them from coming judgment. Indeed, is this true of you? Are you trusting Christ?

All in all, it’s a very brief time and yet it should be one where the gospel is clearly presented, where the lost are confronted with the Truth of the gospel, and where believers are comforted with the hope found in Christ. This is one approach that I took recently in a graveyard service. May God use the Word of God as it goes out to save many and comfort those who are grieving in Christian hope.
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