Jewish Journal

Come for the Funeral, Stay for Jesus

by Susan Esther Barnes

January 29, 2014 | 12:30 am

Photo by Susan Esther Barnes

Last weekend I attended the funeral for my husband’s cousin. It was held in a church in a small town in Oregon, about an hour and a half from Portland. I don’t, for obvious reasons, spend much time in churches or at Christian services, so it’s interesting to see how things differ from what I’m used to at my synagogue.

Just as there is a wide variety in how different synagogues do things, there is also a wide variety in how churches do things. This experience, for instance, was very different from the last Christian funeral I went to, which I wrote about in, “Is There Something Wrong with a Joyful Funeral?

This funeral was not joyful, and I was glad to see that, unlike the last Christian funeral I attended, there were a few people who spoke about the person who had died, what his life was like, and what his friendship had meant to them. What this funeral did have in common with the last one, though, was it contained a sermon  which seemed to have nothing to do with the person who had died, or his life. And there was still what felt to me like an underlying unwillingness to allow the mourners to stay sad for a while.

Several times during the service the pastor seemed to be recruiting converts. He talked about how being with Jesus makes people happy. He spent some time in his sermon talking about how we should take on the yoke of Christianity, that it’s an easy yoke to take on, and Jesus wears it with you.

It was an interesting contrast to the yoke of the commandments I read about from Orthodox Jews, and the underlying feeling they convey that the yoke is difficult but rewarding nonetheless.

I guess what made me feel uncomfortable was that the service seemed to have a dual purpose:  to mark the death of a person, but also to draw into Christianity any non-Christians who happened to show up. None of it felt comforting to me. It seemed to lack the “this sucks and we’re here to see you through it” feeling  I’m used to getting from Jewish funeral services. Instead, it was kind of like, “He’s dead, and if you’re sad, come to Jesus to get happy.”

Mourning too long or too deeply may be unhealthy, but so is an attempt to try to mitigate or deny the sadness and the tragedy prematurely. There is a time, as Ecclesiastes said, for everything. This rush to find happiness so soon after the death of a 40 year old man doesn’t sit well with me. And the use of a funeral as a recruitment tool feels particularly crass.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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