The video below shows “American tacky” in all its glory. A man who loved Burger King dies and his family honors him by taking the funeral procession through the Burger King “drive thru.” Free Burgers for all on the way to the Cemetery, hearse and all.
I’ve seen worse, I have to admit. Probably at the top of the list is and “Funeral Home Drive- thru” where the deceased is actually on display in a window. No need to get out of your car and actually visit the family. No, that’s too much trouble and lacks the kind of convenience we Americans both deserve and expect. No, just drive through and say something cheesy like, “Don’t he look like himself?” Hit the gas and you’re back to your day.
And while I’ve not yet seen it, I am sure it has already happened that there are “Webcam” options for wakes now as well. Just go to the funeral home website, click through on the deceased’s name, choose the webcam option and shazam, there he is with Hammond organ music playing in the background. (Perhaps a special zoom option could be provided too, for closer viewing). And the guest book could be signed “virtually” as if to say, “I virtually made it there (without the inconvenience of leaving here)!” For an additional fee one could either add a flower to a virtual bouquet, or light a virtual vigil candle, saying, “I virtually care.”
But seriously, folks. I think the line that most stands out in the video is where a relative says regarding the Big Mac drive-thru, “It Started as a Joke, and became a reality.” For my money, it should have stayed a joke.
And while I’m not all that worked up about this (people have been doing silly things at funerals forever), I do think that sober reflection is more proper to funerals. Death, while conquered by Christ, remains a moment for sober reflection. It entered the world through sin, and remains a punishment due to sin.
Further, the deceased goes to the Judgement Seat of Christ. And even for the faithful who rightly trust in the Lord’s mercy, our particular judgement is an honest conversation with the Lord. Yes a very HONEST conversation: none of the sweet little lies we like to tell ourselves, none of the papering over of the things we tend to minimize, none of the shifting of responsibilities we so easily do here.
Yes, an honest conversation of which Scripture says, Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13). Perhaps too we will not only see our sins, but also be surprised by some of our goodness we never knew, or discounted. But it will be an honest conversation. Of the the judgement of our deceased loved ones, we should ALWAYS pray.
But in too many funerals today all this is thrust aside by corny chatter and often silly remarks about how “Joe is up there now playing poker with St Michael” etc. Sadly too often such remarks even come from clergy.
In all of this balance is required. Strong and confident hope is appropriate on behalf of the faithful who die. But it ought to be balanced with a sober acknowledgement that, even if it brings relief and an end to suffering, death is a very deep mystery, and in the realm of a tragic blow humanity suffered in the wake of sin.
Jesus, even knowing he would raise his friend Lazarus in mere moments, stood before his tomb and was deeply moved (the Greek text says he was brimming with anger) and he wept (cf John 11:33ff).
Purgation is needed – And, given the holiness of God, and the promise given to us of God-like perfection (Matt 5:48) and our present lowly and unseemly state, the strong likelihood for those who do die in grace, is that they must undergo final purification to inherit these promises. And this too balances our behavior, we are confident for the faithful, but vigilant unto their purification.
A final reason for sobriety at funerals is the solemn reminder that we will all die and must properly prepare for death. At funerals I never fail to earnestly preach conversion and preparation for death. This is no time to play around and tell lots of goofy jokes. There are many people at funerals who never come to Church at any other time, and many of them are in very serious sin, and in a very degraded spiritual condition, they are, plainly, in great danger of Hell. If I am going to reach them, I have to do it then.
I plea at every funeral for all of us to be serious about preparing for death and judgment. I remind us all of the many warnings of the Lord himself in this regard. An old song says, Sinner please don’t let this harvest pass, and die, and lose your soul at last.
So there, some pastoral reflections elicited by a video. I mean no harm to the family involved. But pastorally this sort of stuff is to be avoided. Funerals need not be times of utter gloom, but neither should they display a forgetfulness that death is ultimately a very serious matter. And even death when it brings relief suffering, it opens the door to a judgement about which we should be prayerfully sober.
Going through burger stands (or telling goofy stories in homilies etc. ) is probably a bad idea that helps neither the deceased nor the rest of us maintain the poise, the balance that is appropriate, a balance that, at the death of the faithful I would describe as sober and prayerful confidence.