Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pastoral Duties to the Deceased

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog titled "When Do You Cease Being Someone's Pastor?"  This question has nothing to do with people and voting membership or when they cease attending worship.  Charlie deals with the question of pastoral duties at the time of death. 

Very often I think folks generally think that the pastor is there for the living, not the one who has died.  It is true that it is holy ground to speak the gospel in those times surrounding the death of loved ones.  Charlie also raises the issue that as pastors we have duties to those who have died as well. He writes:
What I'm saying is that I still have certain duties to a member of my congregation after they die.  I am to comfort those who loved them with the word of the Gospel.  I am to pray (along with the deceased!) for the welfare and eternal salvation of those who survive.  Finally, I am to give Christian burial to the deceased.  I am to proclaim what Jesus did for them in their earthly life.  I am to proclaim what is still coming.  I am to lay to rest the person's body... the body baptized into Christ's death and resurrection.

I am the person's pastor until they are in the ground.  That's when my duties to them cease... not before.
 If we only think of the pastor as necessary to speak to the living with no duties to the deceased, then we are likely to not care who officiates at funerals.  Now I admit, I have more flexibility with ecumenical partnership than my LCMS friend.  However, the notion that any pastor will do, or other eulogies can supplant the place of the pastor's sermon is a great misunderstanding of the role of the pastor and the pastor's place in the community of faith.  Charlie gives several good examples of these sorts of situations.

Thankfully nothing like this has happened to me.  But Charlie's question is important in many ways.

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