I love the alliteration but my article yesterday caused some mild controversy. I had some correspondence from folks, not on the blog of course, asking kind of “is it I” questions as if their farewell to a loved one was inappropriate. I don’t want to be the arbiter of good taste in this area and so I find it best to rely on a liturgy. I prefer to use the old funeral liturgy from the Pastors agenda from our church. It is solemn and dignified and yet hopeful. I wrote about the denigration and disintegration that I see in the funeral service that doesn’t use such a device. I has become something less than a worship service and something more that a commemoration of the departed. Of course I am speaking in generalities but funeral directors that I know are also appalled at the nonsense that they put up with in the planning and performance of the service.
It was the Germans, not known for understatement, that coined the word “kitsch”. It first referred to cheap goods that were imitations of fine art. They were the “Elvis painted on black velvet” kind of things found in Munich markets. Over the years the term has come to mean anything that “offers instantaneous emotional gratification without intellectual effort, without the requirement of distance, without sublimation”.*
Instantaneous emotional gratification about sums it up. The funerals that I have attended were meant to appeal to the emotions, and that is not bad in itself, but there was no attempt to apply the balm of the Gospel and explain that faith in Christ grafts us into a community of faith that is trans geographical and transcends time and space.
Dr. Al Collver has written an article today in the “Witness, Mercy and Life Together Blog” commenting on The Service of Praise and Thanksgiving for Ronald Raymond Feuerhahn, held on 17 March 2015 at the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus at Concordia Seminary, where Dr. Feuerhahn served for 22 years. The press announcement about his funeral can be found here on Concordia Seminary’s website. Dr. Collver writes about the proper remembrance of those that have passed away, especially our teachers in the faith, and gives a great summary from Herman Sasse about the general remembrance of the dead. You can read the whole thing at http://wmltblog.org/. But for now ………..
“Hermann Sasse, in Letters to Lutheran Pastors, Volume III (available from CPH in hardcover and on Kindle) wrote about remembering the dead. In his essay “The Remembrance of the Dead in the Liturgy,” Section 8, Sasse writes: “Let me say a word about that which is specifically important for our death-filled century. The remembrance of the dead needs to be revived in the church. It is one of the bases of the powerful attraction of Catholicism in our day that it has preserved this remembrance, while Protestantism, including Lutheranism, has lost it. Therefore, despite all assurances to the contrary, Protestantism has to a greater or lesser extent become a this-side-of-eternity religion. It was the task of the Reformation to dissolve the symbiosis which in Catholicism brought about a point of contact between the Christian faith and pagan presuppositions about the hereafter. The result of this paganism in the church’s faith and practice has been all too evident; it is no accident that the Reformation began precisely on an All Saints’ Eve (October 31, 1517) with a protest against he fearful commerce which was designed to accomplish the salvation of souls.” Dr. Sasse goes on to point out how Dr. Martin Luther’s liturgical reforms of the church refocused the church on the purpose of Holy Communion, “forgiven sinners who in the reception of the Lord’s true body and blood are made one with all members of the church, all the saints in heaven and on earth, as the Body of Christ.” On Sunday morning, in the Proper Preface in the Communion liturgy, the pastor says, “…therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify your glorious name ever more saying:” Then the congregation sings the Sanctus, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Sabaoth…” Although dead (sic) separates us from the saints in heaven, we are untied together in the body of Christ. Sasse concludes his letter, “It is my hope that the considerations of this letter, for which you waited so long, and longer than you should have, will contribute to the clarification of our thoughts about one of the most difficult theological questions and help us rightly to exercise the church’s ministry of consolation in a cheerless world.”
*Menninghaus, Winfried (2009). “On the Vital Significance of ‘Kitsch’: Walter Benjamin’s Politics of ‘Bad Taste'”. In Andrew Benjamin. Walter Benjamin and the Architecture of Modernity. Charles Rice. re.press. pp. 39–58. ISBN 9780980544091.