Eulogy allows for memories, grief, celebration
EDITOR’S NOTE: Micah Spicer graduated in May from Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. This article is adapted from his academic writing on funerals.
Early in his ministry, Micah Spicer, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Thomas, Ky., confesses to trembling when fulfilling one of his pastoral duties.
Yet, responses from those receiving such pastoral comfort reinforced the importance of this ministry task.
“While feelings of inadequacy still surface, I can honestly say that more people approach me concerning the content of the eulogy than they do following my best Sunday morning sermon,” said Spicer. “This confirms that people are more receptive to God’s words in days of despair than they are in ordinary circumstances.”
As a result, Spicer considers the eulogy to be one of his most important tasks — as he seeks to “honor God, as well as the deceased person.” In doing so, his focus is on leading worshipers in “remembering, grieving and celebrating.”
“The importance of remembering was emphasized by Jesus during the Last Supper,” said Spicer. “As Jesus shared the Passover with his disciples, he informed them of his imminent death … [and] initiated a new ritual for his disciples.”
Jesus’ instructions called for disciples to gather to eat bread and drink wine in his memory.
“Jesus understood that there is power in remembering: power to convict us, power to shape us, and ultimately power to change us,” said Spicer. “Remembering the deceased is a vital part of the eulogy.”
While there are various ways of remembering someone at the end of their earthly life, Spicer said, “storytelling is a great place to start.” Personal memories connect the worshiper to the loved one, he added.
“Dealing with grief is vital as we plan the eulogy. The faces that we look over are often hearts in turmoil,” said Spicer.
Eulogies are for the living, he noted. Therefore, the minister’s goal is to connect the worshipers to their inner feelings. The eulogy, he added, helps mourners acknowledge their feelings so that they can work through them.
“Although this is a difficult task — one I have struggled with mightily —ministers must enter into the depths of emotions,” said Spicer, admitting that he finds it difficult to share his own emotions with others.
Ministers, however, said Spicer, represent their congregations in shared burdens.
“My awareness of the mourners’ needs for grieving has led me to express my feelings not as ‘I’ but as ‘we.’”
He credits the late preacher, Fred Craddock, for teaching that ministers “speak for the audience, not to the audience.”
“By expressing my own feelings, I am actually giving others permission to acknowledge their feelings …,” said Spicer. “Acknowledging emotions, naming those feelings, and speaking for the audience help us to grieve together.”
Though difficult, celebration is essential for believers, said Spicer.
“We celebrate the loved one by remembering, by reading scriptures, and by revealing God’s truths,” said Spicer. “Celebration connects the worshiper to God.”
Spicer suggests using scripture in one or more of these four ways: a familiar text such as Psalm 23, a text requested by the family, one known as a favorite of the deceased or one descriptive of that person.
For example, said Spicer, the deceased person’s kindness might be compared to the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. But he warns of being sure that a comparison is appropriate for the situation.
“Comparing the deceased to Judas Iscariot, for instance, would never be appropriate.”
Spicer said the eulogy should end with the minister offering hope to the family.
“I speak plainly: ‘Your loved one is in good hands. Your loved one is in nail-scarred hands. Your loved one is now with God, and will be forever. And now, through Christ, they are just waiting for you and me to join them when our life is done.’”
It is a time to be straightforward, Spicer reaffirmed.
“Do not take for granted our core belief that Christ has defeated death and given us new life,” he said. “We will honor our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as the deceased person, as we say goodbye by committing them to their eternal home with God.” NFJ