Trigger warning: Some of you may be uncomfortable with the following topic. Feel free to click away to Jimmy Kimmel Lie Witness News videos or cheerful Facebook updates.
If you do, you’ll be in good company. When I brought up this topic at dinner the other night, our daughter promptly excused herself.
“How can you be talking about your funeral? Depressing!” (Off to Jimmy Kimmel.)
Ever since my dad died and the family had to plan his service (Hymns? Uh…“Beautiful Savior” sounds okay), I’ve been thinking that a go-to list would be handy.
Fellow Type-A personalities: You get this, right?
Here’s what I’m looking for:
1. Something more useful than my current list, which basically looks like this:
NOT: “How Great Thou Art,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Amazing Grace,” “On Eagles’
Pardon me if these hymns are on your list. They’re popular, I know. I’m just aiming for something a little different.
2. Hymns that say the right thing, theologically
What does this mean? Rev. Jonathan C. Watt offers these insights:
It is important to understand that a funeral is a worship service. We do not worship the person lying in the casket; rather, we worship the One who died and rose again. Jesus Christ is the center of all Lutheran worship—especially a funeral—because Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil is clearly proclaimed. The whole funeral service echoes this truth over and over, reminding us of what Jesus did for us at our Baptism.
Based on those guidelines, “A Mighty Fortress” is in. Pharell’s “Happy” is out.
Also probably out: One of my favorite hymns, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” It’s fine, theologically, but if I can have only 3-4 hymns, there’s probably not room for one about safe transportation.
3. Something singable.
If you’re musically inclined, you probably have a few things to say about this. According to advice from McFarland Lutheran Church, you should “select hymns that are both easily sung and commonly known.”
Whether you’re a musician or not, you likely have thoughts about what counts as “easily sung” (e.g., Simple melody? Doesn’t make you wince?) or “commonly known.”
“Children of the Heavenly Father” seems to meet the standards. “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth,” on the other hand, might be too unfamiliar and/or challenging, at least at this point. (Maybe in 20 years? I have heard this hymn sung well, but I still stumble over the melody and can’t for the life of me remember the title.)
Now comes the hard part. The Lutheran Service Book (LSB) contains 636 hymns. The number of hymns at a typical funeral: 3-4.
But here goes—a short list, chosen after a semi-thorough family vetting process. (Husband/pastor: Polite nod = “That one? Oh, well.” Me: “Okay, maybe not that one.”) Numbers that follow are from LSB.
Praise to the Lord the Almighty, 790
Built on the Rock the Church Doth Stand, 645 (an uncommon choice, maybe, but if I had to have just one hymn, this would be it)
Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense, 741 (v. 1-4) OR Jesus Lives! The Vict’ry’s Won, 490 (same tune, similar sentiments)
Abide with Me 878 (optional 4th hymn; could be replaced by a solo or dropped entirely)
Possible Solo/Group Piece
“My Heart Is Longing,” Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary 61 (love, love, love this hymn, but I’m not sure about congregational singing, since it’s not as familiar; maybe if the Augustana choir happened to be in the area…LISTEN)
Other contenders: Thy Strong Word, 578; Glory Be to God the Father, 506; O Love, How Deep, 544; Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands, 458; What Wondrous Love Is This, 543; Our God, Our Help in Ages Past, 733, My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less, 575
So let’s see: Christ? Check. Sacraments? Check. Hope and comfort? Check. Eagles’ wings?
Check! 10 points for you if you can name that hymn. And 10 points if you expand this list with a hymn of your own.