Funerals are a time to mourn the loss of a loved one, show support for the grieving family, and reflect on the meaning of life and death. As Christians, we want to follow Biblical principles when making decisions about attending or not attending a funeral service. This article will explore what the Bible says about missing a funeral and offer guidance for Christians.
Attending a funeral is an important way to show respect for the deceased and empathy for the grieving. However, there are times when it may not be possible or prudent for a Christian to attend a funeral service. What guidance does the Bible offer to believers facing this situation? How can we balance personal responsibilities and relationships with showing proper honor to the dead?
Here are the key takeaways we’ll cover in this article:
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- The Bible does not directly address missing a funeral
- Attending a funeral is an act of compassion, but not attending does not always indicate a lack of compassion
- Not attending a funeral of an unbeliever is acceptable if it avoids endorsement of unbiblical beliefs or practices
- Illness, travel complications and job duties can justifiably prevent funeral attendance
- Attending funerals of fellow believers should be a high priority whenever possible
- If unable to attend, sending condolences and providing support to the bereaved are good alternatives
- Christians should seek to follow their conscience andBiblical principles when deciding about funeral attendance
Examining Bible passages about death, grieving, and Christian responsibility to others will shed light on how to approach situations where attending a funeral is difficult or impossible. With prayerful wisdom, Christians can make thoughtful decisions about funerals.
The Bible Does Not Directly Address Missing a Funeral
There are no Bible verses that explicitly discuss missing or not attending a funeral. Scripture does not command or prohibit Christians from attending funerals. However, there are some principles we can derive from Biblical accounts of death and mourning that provide guidance when considering whether or not to attend a funeral service.
In the Old Testament, funerals and mourning rituals were important cultural practices. When Jacob died, Joseph and his family “mourned for his father seven days” before Joseph received permission from Pharaoh to bury Jacob in Canaan (Genesis 50:7-11). The Israelites mourned Aaron’s death for 30 days (Numbers 20:29). These accounts show that proper mourning and memorials were the expected cultural norm.
The closest the New Testament comes to discussing funerals is in John 11 when Jesus attends the funeral of his friend Lazarus. This affirms the appropriateness of showing empathy and offering comfort to the bereaved family. However, Jesus also made the point that some duties may supersede funeral attendance when he delayed going right away even though Lazarus was a close friend (John 11:5-6). Attending this funeral was not presented as an absolute obligation for Jesus.
Since the Bible does not explicitly prohibit missing a funeral or command mandatory attendance, Christians have freedom to make prayerful decisions about attending memorial services based on other Scriptural principles and the leading of the Holy Spirit in specific situations. The rest of this article will explore those Biblical principles that can guide us.
Attending a Funeral Shows Compassion, But Not Attending Does Not Necessarily Indicate a Lack of Compassion
One of the strongest Biblical principles regarding funerals is the call to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Attending a funeral is a key way to show empathy and care for those grieving the loss of a loved one. Being present at the memorial and burial allows us to weep with those who weep and provide comfort to the bereaved. This kind of compassion should characterize every Christian.
However, the reverse is not always true. Not attending a funeral does not necessarily demonstrate a lack of compassion. There are many reasons that Christians cannot or should not attend a particular funeral service. Certain circumstances beyond our control may prevent attendance. Other factors like the funeral customs of another religion may create concerns about endorsement or participation in unbiblical practices. And some personality types process grief more privately.
As long as we pray for the mourners, send condolences, provide practical support, and look for other opportunities to show the love of Christ, we can demonstrate genuine compassion even if not attending the funeral. The motives of the heart matter more than outward actions alone. Our care and concern for those grieving can be evident even when attending the funeral is not wise or possible.
Not Attending a Funeral of an Unbeliever Can Avoid Endorsing Unbiblical Beliefs
One situation where Christians may justifiably miss a funeral is when the deceased was not a believer. Obviously, unbelievers will not have Christian funeral services. Their memorials often involve customs, religious rituals or unbiblical views of the afterlife that can conflict with Christian beliefs. Attending and participating in such funerals has the potential to endorse non-Christian perspectives.
The apostle Paul warns about partnering with unbelievers: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). Attending a non-Christian funeral could inadvertently identify us with idolatry or occult religious practices.
Additionally, Paul tells Christians, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). It may be prudent to avoid participating in funeral rituals that qualify as “deeds of darkness” from a Biblical view. Attending could signal approval or prevent the opportunity to share the Gospel with the bereaved.
This principle particularly applies to funerals in religions like Mormonism, Hinduism, or occult spiritualism that have distinctly unbiblical beliefs about death and the afterlife. Christians should carefully consider if attendance at such funerals compromises Biblical teachings. Politely declining may be the wisest option.
Illness, Travel Problems and Job Responsibilities Can Prevent Funeral Attendance
Sometimes situational factors entirely beyond our control make attending a funeral impossible. Serious illness may physically prevent leaving home to travel to the funeral location. Jesus emphasized that sickness could rightly prevent someone from following through on an intended action when he said “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Severe illness can understandably make funeral attendance impractical.
Travel complications from circumstances like inclement weather, flight cancellations, car breakdowns, and accidents can also prevent getting to a funeral on time. While disappointing, such troubles are common realties of life that canhibit attendance despite best intentions.
Work and family duties may also occasionally preclude attending a funeral depending on time commitments. Responsibilities to an employer or caring for young children without childcare options can justifiably limit the ability to be present at a funeral. Paul teaches that Christians should discharge their obligations and duties with excellence as part of their witness (Colossians 3:23). In some cases, fulfilling duties at work or home may take appropriate priority over funeral attendance.
When illness, travel problems or other responsibilities prevent attending a funeral, Christians can still show care and compassion through prayers, written condolences, providing meals for the family, and fellowshiping with the bereaved at other times.
Attending Funerals of Fellow Believers Should Be a High Priority
While there are understandable situations where funeral attendance is limited or precluded, making every effort to attend memorial services for fellow believers should be a high priority for Christians. The bonds of brotherhood in the body of Christ imply a duty to mourn with those who mourn within the church.
Paul speaks about Christians grieving together and comforting each other after the death of a loved one: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The word “grieve” indicates shared mourning, pointing to the appropriateness of Christians gathering to grieve at the funeral of a fellow believer.
The book of Ecclesiastes also emphasizes the importance of being present with other mourners: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Funerals remind believers of the fragility of life and urgency of living purposefully. We should make every reasonable effort to join at the home of mourning when a Christian brother or sister passes away.
Providing Support and Condolences When Unable to Attend
When attendance at a funeral is not possible, Christians can still demonstrate love and care for the bereaved through other forms of support. Writing a note of condolence, sending flowers or food, donating to a charity in memory of the deceased, and being present at other memorial events are all good alternatives when unable to be at the funeral service.
Paul says believers should “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13). The grieving are certainly in emotional, spiritual and practical need. Providing meals, helping with household chores, sending encouraging cards and offering prayer support can bless those in mourning. Visiting with the family after the funeral and memorializing the deceased together are also ways to show honor and respect.
Even if unable to attend the funeral, Christians can still uphold the Biblical principle of mourning with those who mourn through ongoing comfort and care for those left behind.
Following Biblical Principles and Our Conscience
In the end, each Christian must prayerfully follow Biblical principles and their conscience in deciding if they should attend a particular funeral service. As covered in this article, there are valid situations both for attending and not attending funerals depending on the circumstances.
The Bible clearly directs believers to show compassion for those who are grieving. Every effort should be made to attend the funeral of a fellow Christian to share in mourning and provide comfort. But attendance at some funerals could imply endorsement of unbiblical beliefs or participation in non-Christian religious rituals. And some obstacles like illness, travel issues and job duties may understandably preclude attendance.
When unable to attend a funeral, continuing to uphold those who grieve through prayer, written condolences, giving, and fellowship provides alternate ways to fulfill the Biblical command to weep with those who weep. Christians should aim to follow both the leading of Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s guidance in making decisions about funeral attendance that honor Christ and support those He calls us to love.
While the Bible does not directly address missing a funeral, by applying Biblical principles about compassion, avoiding spiritual compromise and fulfilling responsibilities, Christians can make wise choices about funeral attendance that balance honoring the dead with other duties. Our mourning with the bereaved and care for the grieving should be evident even when attending a funeral is not possible or prudent. With prayerful wisdom, believers can uphold righteousness and show Christ’s love, whether present at memorial services or supporting the grieving in other ways.