Every now and then, someone will ask me, “Pastor, which do you prefer to officiate: a wedding or a funeral?”
“A funeral,” I say (usually to their dismay), “because funerals always take. Too many of my weddings have ended in divorce, but everyone for whom I’ve ever done a funeral is still dead.”
Weddings and funerals are where pastors live. I’ve officiated at a few hundred of both. That makes us pastors something of experts on those subjects. And today, at a funeral, as the door swung open to move the casket to the hearse, it struck me that funerals and weddings are really very much alike. Here’s what struck me: when the chapel doors opened, the noisy conversation of people gathered outside the chapel sounded as much like a wedding as a funeral. There was noisy chatter, some laughter, and just the buzz of a multitude of voices ringing in my ears. If someone had blind-folded me and dropped me into that crowd, I couldn’t have guessed if I’d been dropped at a wedding or a funeral or maybe even a Black Friday customer line waiting for Best Buy to open.
Weddings and funerals do have a lot in common. Both can cost the family a king’s ransom. Both include something of an ending and something of a beginning. Both invite tears, though usually for different reasons. Both include, for some in attendance, the grief of letting go. Both create, in our mobile culture, the rare opportunity of family reunion. Both are rites-of-passage. And for Christians, both are tied to worship and deeply connected to Christ and the church.
Oh, and one more thing: both usually call for a pastor to say a few words and perform a few rituals. We stand before the people, praying that God will give us words that point people to Christ, that the attention will be focused on the bride and groom or on the deceased and her family rather than on ourselves, and that we can bring just the right measure of celebration and solemnity that both of those services demand. Some pastors make it look easy. It’s not.