Eulogy’s are often times the most difficult sermons. The struggle over what to say and how to say it can be quite burdensome. I remember feeling very uncomfortable teaching a message for a very tragic death that required an answer as to why this happened. This arduous task is where the preacher must lean on the assistance of the Holy Ghost to be effective.
The funeral message is important to the family’s healing, deliverance and stability. The funeral isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of the closure process for the family. The eulogy must help the family after the funeral. The word must be instructional and therapeutic in its nature so that its effects will be long-lasting. A mature revelation sticks with people long after the service. An immature revelation excites people for the moment but has no lasting effects. An immature revelation is not meant to grow but to stimulate.
The message should be structured, short and impacting. The eulogy should be no more then 15 to 20 minutes. It is not a time for the preacher to shine but to help the grieved with comfort from the Word of God.
There are five components that make a eulogy successful. These components are ordered according to how the person passed. The message must deal with the issue, indignation, illumination, inspiration and the individual.
1. The Issue—What
An effective funeral message must do more than the traditional view of just preaching the gospel. Just preaching the good news alone doesn’t help with the closure of death, especially if it is a tragic death. The issue of how the person died must be dealt with in a sensitive way. It almost feels like your walking a tightrope but is necessary for the healing process. People need to know why the death occurred the way that it did.
What the preacher needs to do is find a conceptual Scripture that deals with how the person passed. This will bring a positive kingdom mind to a painful experience. For instance, if someone dies from AIDS, a good biblical example is a person with leprosy. Leprosy is a disease that spreads to take over the body and can be contagious. In biblical times, only few were healed from leprosy. Everyone else was left to live with the disease as an outcast from society with no hope for healing. This is a good example of what most people with AIDS deal with today. The closure comes with the knowledge that in knowing the Lord, death is our miracle.
Everyone has an immediate negative reaction to death which is justifiable and real. Individuals begin to question why this happened, even though death is inevitable. The knowledge that loved ones will die does not stop the hurt when it happens.
This becomes worse when someone dies in a tragic way or earlier than expected. To be effective at this, the preacher must be real that the passing doesn’t always make sense. When Uzzah died in 2 Samuel 6, David had a problem. The death didn’t make sense because he died for having the right intentions. When the preacher acknowledges this, it relaxes the crowd because most of them feel the same way. This situation is very real when an infant or a teenager dies. It is our job to make sense out of the death.
The illumination is the biblical solution to the “what” and the “why.” This is where the preacher makes sense out of the situation and gives God’s viewpoint on it. The answer requires some digging because it can’t be general but suitable to the situation. The people need to know more than “God won’t put on you more then you can bear” or “God is sovereign and does what He wants.” A real answer must be given to help those grieving at the funeral.
A good solution that helps with just about any situation is the principle of assignment. God releases everybody into this world to fulfill an assignment and once it is fulfilled God brings them back to Him. The fulfillment is not culminated by time but by the lives that they touched.
Another form of illumination is the use of miracles. This only applies for an individual who is saved. The greatest miracle that God could ever give to one of His children is death. The Bible says that it’s precious in His eyes. One of His jewels has come home. Death was not God’s preferred method but He used it for His good to transition His people back to Him. When we die in the Lord, we go to see Him and get a new body not made by hands—a body that can no longer be corrupted. We leave this old body for a new one that can’t get sick, hurt or experience anything negative. If that’s not a miracle, I am not sure what one is!
If the person was extremely sick, death sometimes is the right answer to God. If God healed them and kept them on earth, they would have gotten sick again. But, God releases them from all that and gives the greatest miracle ever.
To make this work, use the principles of the text not necessarily the whole Scripture. Let’s look at an example. If the situation involves a person who was sick seeking God for healing, a good Scripture is the woman with the issue of blood. She goes to all the doctors and they can do nothing. The Bible says she spent all that she had and got worse. She was beyond any human capability which positioned her for divine help. This woman comes to Jesus and presses her way to get her healing—and receives it! After the miracle, Jesus says “Go in peace,” which means enter into a new condition. Her miracle caused her to move on to a new stage in life. These principles are the same for the sick person. The individual has searched to be healed from God, and receive a miracle—but receives it the way God determines. The Lord chooses not the keep the person on the earth but changes the condition to a new one.
Let’s look at a tragic death. If there is a child who dies, a good Scripture is Psalm 127:3-4. God likens Himself to an archer and children as arrows. An archer contains all the arrows in his quiver, safe from all harm. And, he has a time when he is ready to shoot it to a predetermined place. He leaves the arrow at the place for a set amount of time, exposed to the elements of its environment. But the archer never leaves it absent for long. He determines a time where he comes to get it so that it’s no longer absent—but present. This is what God does with the child. The children are His and we are only stewards of them. God gives them to us for a period of time and He determines when they come back to Him. The child is given to the family to impact them and fulfill something in their lives.
Suicide is a touchy and debated topic that needs to be dealt with at a funeral. People want to know why they did it and also the destination after death. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It is the answer to someone who can’t tell the difference between a phase and a condition. A phase is seasonal and conditions are long-term. The problem with people who commit suicide is they try to make something seasonal something long-term. And, the more permanent it looks, the worse they become. The issue is perpetuated based on what they say to themselves. Eventually it culminates and they end their life. That will be the topic of the funeral, “He or she had a tragic day.”
The other issue to bring up in the eulogy is if the person was saved—do they go to heaven or hell. Some people will say that suicide is the one sin that can eradicate your salvation. Most don’t know the origins of this line of thought. The ones who believe it prove it by saying the Bible says it. In reality the Bible doesn’t say anything about it. Like most things in the church, the tradition has taken on biblical weight. The justifying reason that people believe this is that the person couldn’t ask for forgiveness before they died so they have unconfessed sin.
But the Bible is so clear that sin can’t undo salvation. Our redemption was not based on works so it doesn’t rely on works to maintain it. It’s maintained by grace. Since grace keeps me, and Jesus promises that once we are in His hands nothing can pluck us out, unconfessed sin won’t keep me out of glory. The real question isn’t can one lose salvation; it’s if the person ever had it in the first place.
Most people qualify sins. If someone were to die in a car accident, and they didn’t have time to ask for forgiveness, we still believe they’re going to heaven. If the same thought holds true for that scenario, we must believe that if a saved person commits suicide, they can still be saved. Some will also justify it by saying that the person can’t go to heaven because they took something that didn’t belong to them. If this were true a murderer could not be saved. But in the Bible, some of our greatest heros were murderers! Moses and Paul are the classic examples. These two ex-murders became leaders to God’s people and were very significant in God’s plan.
After illumination comes inspiration. Relevance then direction. The inspirational aspect of the eulogy deals with the post funeral feelings. Like has been previously written, the funeral is the beginning of the closure process. An inspirational word gives direction that is needed to make it during the days when the reality of the death becomes more evident. The family will go through holidays, special events, birthdays without the presence of someone they are used to seeing. Special times bring a lot of memories of who isn’t there. People need a word that they can remember after the funeral that will help them with closure.
For this to be successful, the inspiration must be instructional more than emotional. The success of the eulogy is not based on the excitement of the moment but the instruction that helps them after the service. The word is meant to uplift during the moment but also have long lasting effects.
It’s impossible to do a eulogy with integrity and lie about the person. Don’t make a saint out of the devil! If the person wasn’t saved don’t tell people they’re in heaven when they are not. But don’t state the obvious and tell people they’re in hell.
The temptation is to fabricate the life of the person to make them look better then they were. The key to doing this right is to find something that was good about the person and talk about that. If the person wasn’t good, find something good about the people that were around them. There is some good in the individual’s life that is able to be discussed. For instance, if a person makes a bad choice in life and it leads to their death, the topic of discussion can be on choices. Teach that choices determine our destiny and that we get out of life what we put in it.
In closing, a eulogy must help the family by using the Word of God to live their life without the individual. The message must be sensitive to the situation and impacting in its approach. We want the people to remember the words that were spoken weeks after the funeral.