Death is a profitable business. This weekend I performed yet another funeral service. I am well into double digits in just four years of pastoral ministry. One of those was my own brother. They all have one thing in common … the price tag. It seems that you pay at least a minimum of $3000-$5000 for the entire process. More if you go with a fancy casket, an expensive funeral home and a burial plot that wasn’t purchased in 1904. (There is a shortage of land now, you know.) I just performed a graveside service today and in order to put the person’s name on the tombstone next to her spouse’s it will cost $235 for the first four letters and $90 for each letter after that. One of the family members jokingly said, “Well, I guess her name just got shorter.” What a horrible time to have to think about money.
Perhaps death is so expensive because it is final. Maybe because it is messy or unsanitary. I imagine some of the price is raised because it is so emotional. Whatever the reasons it is clear that death is a profitable business … except for the church.
As an ordained elder in the Free Methodist Church I am not allowed to charge for funerals; not that I would any way. I can receive honoraria or donations can be made to the ministry, but we don’t charge. I wonder why we don’t capitalize on this all too frequent opportunity to make a quick buck. We do it with weddings. We could charge for the facilities. We could charge for our presence. We could charge for the sound booth and the lights. We could charge for the kleenex and the toilet paper. So why don’t we? Well, for a few reasons:
- Death isn’t the end of the church’s story. Our story is one of God becoming flesh and blood, moving into the neighborhood, dying and being raised to new life. Yes we grieve, but we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. Our God has conquered the grave, “Where, O Death, is thy sting?”
- The church isn’t afraid of “messy” or “unsanitary.” In fact, these should describe the “third place” of the church; the place where her members frequent regularly looking for people to call them into wholeness through forgiveness and holiness in Jesus Christ. We just aren’t afraid of messy.
- The church is about nurture, not manipulation. We are called to bear one another’s burdens, not take advantage of them. So instead of capitalizing on human emotions we just experience them together and offer them to the Lord.
Now, I know it actually costs to take care of those who die. I get that. I’m just saying that I’m glad the church isn’t part of the financial process of the whole thing. I much more satisfied encouraging grieving family members, proclaiming resurrection, and calling people to wholeness through faith in Jesus Christ than I am with any profit. That’s at least one thing the church is doing well.