Ethos Education

What We Did on our Holiday: What is the point of a funeral?

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Learning Objectives:

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

Learning Outcomes: 

  • Students will reflect upon their own memories of attending a funeral (where appropriate).
  • Evaluate different attitudes towards funerals, with reference to a clip from the film What We Did on our Holiday.
  • Analyse Bible passages to develop an understanding of the teaching of the Bible about 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 the 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 in a church. 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 clip from the film What We Did on our Holiday (Lionsgate, 2014, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that Gordie (Billy Connolly) has taken his grandchildren to the beach while the other adult members of his family set things up for his birthday party, a lavish event which is the cause of some tension between Gordie’s two sons. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what Gordie says about funerals during the clip.

Start time:       0.40.44 (in chapter 6 of the DVD)
End time:         0.43.53
Clip length:      3 minutes and 9 seconds

The clip starts with Lottie (Emilia Jones) asking, ‘Are you all right, Grandad?’. It ends with Gordie laughing uproariously while Mickey screams, ‘You lied to us!’

Ask the students if they agree with Gordie’s assertion that he doesn’t see the point of funerals. Remind them of his description of funerals: ‘Nice people all standing round in the kirk [a Scottish word for a church] while the priest tells a pack of lies about what a great man you were.’ Do the students agree that funerals are simply an exercise in hypocrisy? Can any of them suggest any positive reasons for holding a funeral?

Point out to the students that Christians don’t believe that a funeral is an essential stage for the soul’s journey to eternal life. Put another way, what we do in terms of funeral rites has no effect on the person whose funeral it is. This isn’t to say that Christians don’t regard funerals as important. Nevertheless, before looking more closely at Christian funerals, it would be helpful to consider Christian belief about the relationship between soul and body. To that end, ask the students 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 Body and Soul 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 Bible’s teaching that although our current ‘earthly bodies’ will eventually die, that doesn’t mean that people become disembodied spirits. Rather, the Bible teaches that they will have a new spiritual body (or ‘resurrection body’), which will never perish. Draw out the importance of understanding the biblical teaching 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 Bible.

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

www.churchofengland.org/prayer-worship/worship/texts/pastoral/funeral/funeral.aspx#outline

Print out the first section (the outline) and give it out to the class. Draw their attention to the prayers, 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.

Print out the section headed ‘The Gathering’ which includes a selection of Bible passages. 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. Many Christians ask for their funerals to be joyful occasions, celebrating the fact that they are now ‘going home’ to be with God.

Give everyone a copy of the Funeral handout, which contains a 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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