How to Crash a Funeral and
Get Away With It (sort of)
Have you ever wanted to crash a funeral? What do I mean? Well, when you crash a party you break social rules. You break the expectations of the party goers. You might be inspired by a myriad of motives. Some might say you ruined the party. Others might say you saved it. By the end of this article youíll know what I mean by crashing a funeral and when it can work for your benefit. But there is a cost. Keep reading and find out the cost and the benefits.
First, letís talk about expectations at a funeral. (By funeral I also refer to the burial and burial place as well. Iím just trying to keep the language simple.) A funeral is a ceremony full of customs that over the years were developed to express grief, comfort for the living, and honor the dead. The complexity of the social dos and doníts seems greater than the diplomacy required to keep the Middle East out of war.I remember after my father died we had a memorial service and reception for guests. This was a fairly simple affair as funerals go. Even so, a lot of things made me just want to throw up my hands and scream, "I canít take it anymore, please just everybody go home!" While some people are comforted by the customs and the gatherings of sympathetic friends and family members I just wanted to be alone to wail and weep for our loss. But instead, I tried, as best I could, to fulfill my cultureís requirements of me. Though none of my family members pressured me to do anything I did not want to do, I needed to act unselfishly to help them as they, in turn, helped me.It was not easy and we all had to carefully walk across a balance beam of expectations. I was simultaneously supposed to express and suppress my grief. I had to show just enough grief to prove to the guests that I loved my father and would really miss him. But I couldnít just sit there and wail and cry because that would upset the guests to see me so devastated. They would feel helpless and I would not want them to feel so uncomfortable. Similarly, I was to simultaneously help friends and family members express and suppress their grief, but not too much or too little. At the same time I was outraged by the rules and con-jobs of the funeral services industry that served only to wrangle as much money out of people in a time of weakness as they could possibly get away with. My father wanted to be and was cremated with the minimal cost to us and his estate. When I think about how much money was charged for simple services I get very angry. Our grieving family did as best we could to fulfill many expectations from all sides, including other family members, friends and society.Of course, there are some positive benefits of fulfilling these expectations. It helps to keep our society stable. Though there is some tolerance for modifying the basic funeral, you canít stray too far without being chastised and brought back into line by society. People, for the most part donít want some radical coming in and messing with our expectations, especially in something like a funeral. I mean, what would happen if we went to a funeral and the dead person came back to life? That would certainly shatter our expectations that once a person is dead they stay dead. On this line, what if there was someone who, every once in a while, crashed a funeral by raising the dead person back to life?
Jesus Christ was such a radical person. He was not what you would call socially correct at funerals. Now I can imagine some people being socially incorrect at a funeral. Maybe they are just socially awkward and immature in the first place. Or maybe they have some mental or emotional disorder that would cause them to erupt in some bizarre behavior. But not Jesus. He demonstrated throughout his life that he was neither socially immature nor mentally disturbed. Yet he did not bind himself to go along with the crowd. To put it another way, Jesus really knew how to crash a funeral. You see, he had a habit of bringing the dead person back to life.
He crashed two funerals and two tomb scenes. This is all that we know of. There could have been more. The first is recorded three times. Matthew (9:18-26), Mark (5:35-43), and Luke (8:40-56) reported that Jairus, a leader in the local synagogue, came to Jesus to ask him to come to his home to heal his twelve year old daughter who was dying. On the way to the house Jesus was interrupted by a woman who also wanted to be healed. After Jesus finished with the woman someone came from Jairusí house to tell him that it was too late. The girl had already died. Jesus went to Jairusí house anyway. When they got there the hired mourners were there pretending to grieve as was the custom of the day and culture. It was customary to hire professional mourners wail and make loud music to help the family and community express their anguish. When Jesus told them to stop wailing because she was not dead but only asleep they all laughed at him. They laughed because they knew, themselves, she had been pronounced dead. What is more, once a person is dead it is too late to save them. Or is it? Jesus went inside. And then it happened. Jesus took her by the hand and told her to get up. The girl then stood up and walked around the room! (I wonder if the professional mourners were denied their pay? Did they change the fine print in their contract with their next client to protect their pay in case of a resurrection?)
The second time he crashed a funeral is recorded by Luke (7:11-17). Jesus, accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd were approaching the town gate of a town called Nain. Just then the dead corpse of a widowís only son was being carried out of the town to be buried. Jesus felt compassion for this woman, stopped those who were carrying his coffin and told the young man to get up. The dead man then sat up and began to talk! I wish I could have been there to hear about his out-of-body experience.
Now, it might be tempting for a skeptic to respond to the first two instances with the idea that the girl and the young man were not really dead. It is true that in the ancient world, prior to brain wave monitors, once in a while someone who was thought to be dead really wasnít. Then, they resuscitated. But given that they were so close to death, without the aid of modern medicine, they probably would have lapsed back into unconsciousness and died shortly after anyway. This would certainly have blown Jesusí credibility as people would have concluded the girl and man were not really dead and Jesus didnít really bring them back to life. They could all settle back into the comfort of expecting that dead people do not come back to life.
John (11:1-44) records the third time Jesus defeated death. This one removes all speculation that the person wasnít really dead. He didnít crash the funeral, he crashed the tomb scene. This time the person was no stranger. He was Lazarus, the brother of his very close friends, Mary and Martha. Jesus had spent plenty of time visiting with these three. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick back in Judea. By the time Jesus got there Lazarus had died and had been in the tomb for four days. Jesus went to his tomb and ordered that the stone that covered the entrance be removed. Martha warned that since her brother had been in there for four days there would be a bad odor. Jesus called to Lazarus, "Lazarus, come out!" And Lazarus came out still wrapped in his grave clothes! The proof he had been truly dead was the pungent odor lingering in the air.
The title of this article is How to Crash a Funeral and Get Away With It (Sort Of). In the opening paragraph I said there is are costs and benefits to crashing funerals. Well, the benefits, so far, have been that he brought three dead people back to life to the joy of their families and friends. They even got second chances to make amends and live a better life. Iím sure that all involved didnít take their lives and loved ones for granted after that. Jesus also benefited by backing up his claim to be God, the author of life.
So far, it appeared that he got away with crashing these funerals. But now comes the (Sort of) part. Eventually he was caught. There was a price to pay for being this radical. The price? His own suffering and death.
All four gospels report that he was executed for claiming to be God himself. Raising people from the dead and healing people that were sick disrupted the religious leadersí expectations that people donít rise from the dead and people are not miraculously healed - at least without the corrupt leadersí getting more power, money and popularity from it. What was worse, Jesus did not fulfill their wrong expectations that their Messiah would be a great military leader that would conquer the oppressive Roman Empire for them.
Finally, and worst of all, Jesus messed with their expectations that God, himself, could take on the form of a man and walk humbly among them. Since Jesus claimed to be God, in the flesh, He committed a crime called blaspheme, punishable by death.The execution method of the day was crucifixion. That had to be one of the worst types of death by torture ever invented by men. The executioners laid the criminal on a wooden cross. Then they pinned his wrists to the cross beam with long iron spikes. Next they pinned his ankles together onto the upright post. Finally, they erected the cross, with Jesus on it, into a vertical position and dropped the bottom of the upright post into a hole to keep it standing. When nailed to a cross the person could breath only by putting all of his weight onto the nail in his ankles, lifting his body up, taking a breath and letting himself back down thus hanging from the nails holding his wrists to the cross beam.
Now, in this case, the Jews were planning a special Sabbath and they didnít want the bodies of Jesus and the other two convicts hanging on the crosses as decorations. Perhaps they were anxious to get their Jesus nightmare out of the way and use the special Sabbath to help the people forget about him. So to speed up death the Roman executioners broke the legs of the first man. If your legs are broken then you canít push up to breath. When they came to Jesus to break his legs he seemed to be dead already. But to make sure he was dead before they took him down, they drove a spear through his side, up under his ribs and into his heart.
One of the religious/civic leaders, Joseph of Arimathea, had been a secret follower of Jesus. With permission he took Jesusí body and together with another high ranking secret follower wrapped Jesusí body in a mixture of spices and cloth which together weighed seventy five pounds. In this way they followed the Jewish custom. Now, it would have been Jesusí fate as a common criminal to be buried in a common grave. Instead, they laid his body in the expensive, exclusive garden tomb Joseph had purchased for himself.
Now for the good news. On the third day, Jesus crashed his own tomb scene! Mary Magdalene and the disciples went to the tomb to pay their respects to Jesus. They found that the stone had been rolled away. The grave clothes were still in the tomb but the body was missing.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote that Jesus then appeared to Mary and Martha, the disciples and his other followers. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth that Jesus "appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living." (1 Corinthians 15:6) Paul goes on to write that Jesus even appeared to him, personally, in a vision. (Acts 9:3-6)
Luke, at the end of his first book (Luke 24: 50-53) and in the beginning of his second book (Acts 1:9), tells us that Jesus rose up into heaven. We call this his "ascension". The rest of the New Testament tells us repeatedly that he is now on his throne in heaven.
Jesus doesnít crash funerals or tomb scenes anymore. Why? The first reason is that he raised the young girl, the young man and Lazarus to support his claims to be God. After all who else could have power over death but God, the author of life? Since he proved he is God by rising from the dead himself he does not need to raise others any more to prove it.
The second reason Jesus isnít raising people from the dead now is going to sound contradictory until I explain it - to reinforce our expectations that when a person dies, thatís the end of their earthly life. In other words, there arenít going to be any second chances to correct our mistakes, make new resolutions and do better.If he brought someone came back to life at a funeral we were attending, we might get hopeful that we would get a second chance, too. Under the hope of a second chance we would tend to ignore the changes we need to make in our lives.
Not only will there be no second chances there wonít be any recycling of our lives through reincarnation to give us more chances to become perfect. One of the writers of the New Testament put it this way,
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people... (Hebrews 9:27-28)
This is a linear, not cyclical process. We are born. We live. We die. Then we go to either heaven or hell. No practice runs. No repeat performances. No encores.
This sounds like bad news until we look at the second part of that verse. Christ through his sacrificial death pays for our sins. John, one of Jesusí closest disciples recorded Jesusí very words on this, "For God, so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) Jesus went on to say,
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of Godís one and only Son (John 3:17,18).
You see, contrary to popular misunderstanding, God will not wait until "judgment day" to condemn us. We are condemned already because of the sin nature we inherited from our parents. We are born with a death sentence. The sins we commit throughout our lifetimes donít condemn us as much as they prove we are worthy of our condemnation. However, during our life time we have the chance to be released from that condemnation by receiving Christís forgiveness. (For more on this read Why Jesus Had to Die).
In the early church, since resurrections were new, there was quite a bit of confusion especially in the congregation of believers in Corinth. Paul wrote,
. . . but we will all be changedóin a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
Jesus will raise all the people who ever lived and died. They will be given some sort of body, presumably similar to Jesusí risen body which had physical and spiritual characteristics. If a person is still alive at this time they will also be given that new body. We all, then, will appear before God to receive our sentence of either an eternity in heaven or an eternity in hell.
A sentence of eternity in hell is referred to in Revelation 20:14 as "the Second Death." And there is no chance for pardon from it. There will be no resurrections from that permanent state of death.That we have the prospect of permanent death, that is, eternal life in hell, is a scary thought. Iím not trying to use scare tactics. I didnít make this up. And Iím not embellishing it at all. Iím simply relaying the truth that is spelled out plainly in the Bible. Our condemnation is only half the truth.
The other half is Christís offer to pardon us. That is why he came, died and rose for us. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he assured Lazarusí sister and one of his best friends, Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26) This wasnít just an academic statement to memorize for a test. He then called for a decision from her to put her own faith on the line and choose to believe. He asked Martha, "Do you believe this?" Jesus is asking the same question of each of us today, "Do you believe this?" Through faith in Jesus you can I can have the same certainty the Psalmist had when he wrote, "God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave." (Psalm 49:16)
Jesus not only wants to crash our death, that is, to give us eternal life. He also wants to crash our lifeóin a good way. He said, "I came that they may have life, and have it to the full." He has so much more to offer than a fire insurance policy for our salvation. He offers a life full of meaning and purpose for us.
If you would like to learn more about the salvation he offers please read the article Why Jesus Had to Die.
You are at New Media Ministries.org
Providing quality biblical scholarship to a lay audience.