Historical concept of funerals and mourning of the church
In the first three centuries there were very little written down about funerals. However the Christian burial carried the message of hope in the resurrection. The Christians were treated like victors. The character of the funeral was triumphal processions to the grave. The bodies of the dead were washed, anointed with oil and wrapped in linen cloths.
The ritual of the procession was very important as the graveyard was outside the city. On the way there the family of the dead, who was dressed in white garments sang praises and psalms of hope, while shouting hallelujah. Incense was burned while during the procession to the grave was taking place in broad daylight. (The funerals of the non-Christians happened at night).
The service at the graveside was a celebration of the life of the deceased. The body was given a final kiss of peace before it was put into the grave with the feet in the direction of the rising sun. The anniversary of the death was celebrated and referred to as a ‘heavenly birthday’. All Christians believed in life after death.
The church fathers, Luther and Calvin, were encouraging the mourning at the funeral. They believed mourning to be the expression of hope. The believers who stayed behind had this hope in an even stronger. He stressed that at the funeral services the focus must be one of hope on the day of resurrection of the dead. He encouraged comforting hymns and psalms expressing the forgiveness of sins, of sleep, of rest and the resurrection of the Christians.
There were hymns and psalms sang at the sermon and there was a simple ceremony of reading in the scriptures held at the burial. The resurrection of the dead was also discussed briefly during the burial.
In the nineteenth century funerals were held with a few different rituals included in it.
The Christians now believed that it was a difficult time when you die and you are departing from life.
So they brought in a few rituals:
- All clocks throughout the house were stopped.
- The mirrors in the death room were covered with cloths. This was done to prevent the spirit from being trapped in its own reflection seen in the mirror. They also believed that this prevented the deceased to take anyone who are seeing themselves in the mirror along to the grave.
- When the body was taken out of the house the feet had to go through the front door first. They believed that the spirit would then not be able to find its way back to the house again.
- When suicide victims, murderers, illegitimate children and unbaptised children were buried they were buried with their faces facing the west. They believed that these people were not part of the salvation of Christ and should never see the second coming of Christ.
The following conclusions could thus be made on the basic principles:
- It was essential to be buried during the time of the Old Testament and the New Testament. When someone was not buried it was considered a curse on that person.
- Mourning was allowed, but only if they believed in the hope of resurrection.
- Death was just a reminder to the people of the new life and joy in the New Jerusalem.
- The mourning was allowed at the funerals, but not to comfort the beloved ones who have lost their beloved, but to proclaim the hope and new life with God after the resurrection.
- The procession of the funeral towards the grave was a triumphant mach to show the people staying behind about the glory and victory in God of the deceased.
- The funeral service was thus showing the trust and hope in the promises of God in the Bible.