Entry of the coffin
Traditionally, the minister meets the coffin at the door of the church or crematorium, or at the graveyard gate, and leads the procession, saying aloud such reassuring sentences from the scriptures as:
‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ says the Lord; ‘he that believes in me, though they die, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’
Alternatively, the coffin may be brought in to church some time before the service (sometimes on the day before the actual service), or the mourners may be seated first: these options avoid processing behind the coffin, which some find distressing, as well as giving time to pray quietly before the service.
Welcome and introduction
The minister welcomes those present, introducing the service and says a prayer. Then there might be a hymn. Sometimes, symbols of the person’s life and faith are placed on or near the coffin as part of this. The coffin may be sprinkled with the water of baptism.
Next comes a prayer for forgiveness, because a sense of letting someone down is often an unspoken thought in people’s minds.
If the family wishes, a Communion service follows. The prayers recall the promise of the resurrection, entrust the dead person to the love and mercy of God and ask for comfort and strength for those who mourn.
Readings and sermon
A psalm – perhaps ‘the Lord is my shepherd’ – follows and there are readings that tell of God’s care, and of the hope of eternal life.
A sermon (or ‘tribute’) is spoken about the person who has died. The family or friends might do this, or the minister using notes supplied by the family. There may also be a sermon that remembers the life and work of the dead person, and the great Christian beliefs about life beyond death. Such words can be a comfort and strength to the mourners but sometimes it is felt that the service and the readings from the Bible convey all that needs to be said.
In the prayers, we give thanks for the life of the person who has died, and pray for God’s presence with those who mourn. The Lord’s Prayer may follow.
Commendation and farewell
The minister stands by the coffin and, if appropriate, the mourners may gather round too. A period of silence leads into the prayer of commendation, in which the person who has died is entrusted to the love and mercy of God
The committal is a particularly solemn moment of the funeral service. It takes place either at the graveside or, in the case of a cremation, in the crematorium chapel. Sometime, it occurs in the church itself before the hearse leaves for the crematorium.
In the cemetery, the family will gather round the open grave into which the coffin is lowered and they will hear the words:
We now commit his/her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life.
Handfuls of earth may then be scattered on the coffin.
In a crematorium, the words of committal may be accompanied by the closing of a curtain to hide the coffin from view or the coffin is moved slowly out of sight.
The committal can be a very emotional moment. Many who are suffering grief find that, even in their sadness, the words of prayer can lift them towards the experience of Christian rejoicing in the knowledge of life beyond death.
The offering of prayer and the trust that the person is in God’s safe hands can begin the process of healing the grief of loss.