Ethos Education

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: What is the point of a funeral?

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Learning objectives:

  • Understanding Christian beliefs about the soul and the body.
  • Understanding Christian beliefs about eternal life.
  • Understanding the hope of resurrection for Christians, and how this is reflected in funeral rites.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon their own memories of attending a funeral (where appropriate).
  • Evaluate different attitudes towards the presence of the body at a funeral or memorial service, with reference to a clip from the film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
  • Analyse Bible passages to develop an understanding of Christian teaching on soul and body.
  • Analyse Christian funeral rites to determine what they reveal about Christian belief concerning death and the afterlife.
  • Evaluate the level of comfort that Christians sometimes draw from funerals of other Christians.
  • Synthesise learning by writing brief sentences describing the purpose of each part of a typical Christian funeral service.

STARTER:

Ask if anyone in the class has ever been to a funeral. If anyone has, ask what they can remember about it. Whether or not you are aware of any recently bereaved members of the class, this is a subject that may require sensitive handling. Broaden the discussion out (to include those members of the class who have never attended a funeral) by asking the class to brainstorm the different things that they would expect to happen at a funeral. For example:

  • Prayers
  • Songs/Hymns
  • Cremation or burial of the body
  • Bible reading
  • Sermon
  • Someone saying what the deceased was like

Explain that this lesson is going to be focused on funerals – what purpose they serve, and how they reflect Christian belief about what happens after death.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the following clip from the film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Warner Bros, 2012, Certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that this clip comes from the beginning of the film, and features the funeral of Thomas Schell, who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in New York. Ask the students to pay particular attention to Thomas’ son Oskar (Thomas Horn), especially his thoughts about funerals in the future, and what’s wrong with this particular one.

  • Start time:       0.00.20 (in chapter 1 of the DVD)
  • End time:        0.02.45
  • Clip length:     2 minutes and 25 seconds

The clip starts after the film company credits, when the piano on the soundtrack begins to play. After some images of a man falling through the sky, the first line is Oskar saying, ‘There are more people alive now than have ever died in all of human history.’ The clip ends after Oskar says, ‘…and no one knows where it is.’

What do the students think of Oskar’s idea of ‘skyscrapers for dead people’? Would they like to be able to go and visit their dead loved ones as Oskar suggests? What significance do the students think the idea of a Sixth Borough has in this context? Remind the students that Oskar says nobody can visit the Sixth Borough and draw out the symbolic link between a place that no one can visit and Oskar’s grief at not being able to see his father anymore.

Remind the students of Oskar’s anger that there was nothing in his father’s coffin, not even Thomas’ shoes. What difference would it make to have a body to bury? Why do they think that Oskar is so concerned with the absence of something physical to represent his father in the funeral service?

To help students grasp a Christian understanding of the relationship between soul and body, ask them to work in pairs or small groups and to read 1 Corinthians 15:35-44 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-8. Give out sets of the Soul and Body cards and ask the students to match each summary sentence to the appropriate extract from the Bible. Here are the extracts and summaries, correctly matched up:

1 Corinthians 15: 35-38
Our earthly bodies must die for us to reach our full potential.

1 Corinthians 15: 39-41
There is a difference between earthly bodies and spiritual bodies.

1 Corinthians 15: 42-44
Spiritual bodies will never die.

2 Corinthians 5: 1 and 5
Though earthly bodies will die, that isn’t the end of life.

2 Corinthians 5: 2-4
Life in our earthly bodies is a painful struggle.

2 Corinthians 5: 6-8
Spiritual bodies will be better than earthly bodies.

Take feedback from the students and draw out that both passages make clear the Christian belief that although our current ‘earthly bodies’ will eventually die, that doesn’t mean that people become disembodied spirits. Rather, Christians believe that they will have a new spiritual body (or ‘resurrection body’), which will never perish. Draw out the importance of understanding that Christians believe that human souls are meant to dwell in bodies rather than existing on their own. Dualistic beliefs (that souls are pure and spiritual, and should seek an escape from bodies, which are seen as corruptible and evil) have more to do with Gnostic belief than with the Christian faith.

The Church of England’s website includes Anglican funeral liturgy. Click on the link below for a copy:

Photocopy the first page (the outline) and give it out to the class. Draw their attention to the prayers section, and ask who each of the prayers are for. Students might be surprised to notice that although the first of the four categories of prayer is ‘thanksgiving for the life of the departed’, all of the other prayers are focused on the mourners rather than the deceased. Christians believe that once someone dies, the funeral arrangements make no difference to the deceased, or to what happens to them in death. Rather, funerals are much more about helping the living in the process of grieving and moving on.

Ask the students to compare this funeral outline with the funeral that Oskar witnessed. Which parts of the service can they recognise as corresponding to what was shown in the clip? What other elements are included that didn’t feature in the clip?

Hand out the second page from the funeral service outline, the one which includes a selection of Bible verses for the ‘gathering’ part of the funeral (the final quote, John 3:16 is partly cut off onto the next page. The missing words, which the class can write in, are ‘…who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (We are assuming that you won’t be able to justify photocopying a whole page merely for the sake of a single line of text). Ask the class (either working individually or in pairs) to write a sentence for each passage identifying how they might be a source of hope for Christian mourners.

Explain to the class that many Christians report that they experience funerals of other Christians to be very joyful experiences, despite their sense of pain at losing a loved one. For example, when the entertainer Roy Castle died from cancer in the late 1990s, his wife Fiona said that she didn’t want people to be sad because Roy was now with his maker, his Lord and saviour, where he wanted to be and where she knew he would be happy. She asked the mourners not for tears, but for joy at his funeral.

Give everyone a copy of the Funeral handout, which contains a genuine first-hand account of a Christian funeral. Read it through with the class and ask for their comments: do they think that they would have found the funeral to be as comforting and positive an experience as the writer? What seems to be the most significant factors in the writer’s experience?

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

As a final exercise, ask the students to go through the outline of the funeral service and to write at least one sentence for each part of the funeral, stating what purpose it serves in the service, and whether this might be a source of hope and comfort for the mourners, particularly if the mourners are Christians.

YOU WILL NEED:

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