This topic is on my mind because we are on our way to one right now. I will assure you that this is not a eulogy, but a celebration of a celebration—Christian funerals as I have experienced them over the past sixty years.
What is there to like? Many of the people who are there are incapacitated by grief. Well, for one thing on the day of the funeral they are not incapacitated, but participatory. Of course they may not be all that attentive to the sermon, and the graveside may be an emotional ordeal, but most are able to greet those who come, and are grateful they have come. As exhausting as the days immediately following a death are, they are not the ordeal faced by a new widow or widower in the weeks and months following the funeral.
Most of you know that I am a Christian minister and still active in my profession as a full-time pastor (sometimes more than full-time, it is that sort of vocation) of a rural church. All of my churches have been small ones, so the funerals have been comparatively few—enough so that each of them has been an occasion. When a death occurs, my schedule is largely set aside while I give my first attention to the family and to preparation for the funeral.
What's to like? Well, there is a serious human attempt to give attention. People get off work if they can, they drive hundreds of miles, the women of the church rally around to provide a meal for all who wish to stay after the service; and this is the twenty-first century, where most of the women in their active years are holding full-time jobs. It's becoming more and more common for eulogies or open microphones to take a high place in the service, but for those in my generation the best way to face death is to come together, worship God, and express a biblically-centered hope of heaven.
At the end of Death of a Salesman one of Willy Loman's friends says, over and over, "attention must be paid." It must be paid to who he was, what he did, how he died, because these things all matter. If we do not honor death, we will not honor life.
I was twenty one when I conducted my first funeral. The third funeral I had, that same year, was of a near neighbor, much loved in community and church. The little church was very full. I had my role in the service, but it was not about me. Neither, in the large sense, was it about the man who had died. It was about attention being paid.