13 When the Graveside is the Only Service

Sometimes the graveside service is the only service. This can happen when the family doesn’t need a larger service, when the family has traveled to a family cemetery and people gather from the area, when there isn’t any family. This is also a choice following a miscarriage or stillbirth or infant death. In these cases, the service is a little longer.

Logistics

If there is a hearse, stand at the back of the hearse. When the pallbearers pick up the casket, lead the way to the graveside. When you get there, stand at the foot of the casket.

If there is an urn, it may already be placed on a stand by the grave.

Wait for the family to be seated and for everyone to gather. Take your cue from the funeral director.

Order of Service

Welcome

Use a version of the opening for a memorial service:

We don’t want to be here. Just so that’s clear. 
We’re here because when God made us, he built us to respect lives, and to acknowledge that when an earthly life ends, something significant changes. 
There is something that is right about gathering, briefly, one last time, 
to affirm that life, 
to accept that death, 
to hear hope for the future, and to reflect on how we will live the rest of our lives. 
And that’s what we will do. 
I’d like to invite God to be part of this time, though he’s already here.

Pray

God, we are here. And you are here. And we need to know your presence.
Sovereign Lord, help us for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver us.
For we are poor and needy, and our hearts are wounded within us.[1]
In this time, guide our minds and our hearts. Give us your peace as we offer our words and memories.
Through Christ our Lord,
Amen. 

Scripture

Offer a brief, relevant passage of Scripture. Psalm 23 is appropriate. Part of 1 Corinthians 13 is as well.

Message

You can offer a five-seven minute message about the person’s life and impact in relation to the text. See the sample at the end of this chapter.

Pray as an affirmation of the message. 

Committal

“In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commit to Almighty God our sister/brother [__], and we commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The Lord bless her and keep her, the Lord make his face to shine upon her and be gracious to her, the Lord lift up his face upon her and give her peace. Amen.”

Prayer 

I decided that this can be praying Scripture, so I use an adaptation of Psalm 130.

“Out of the depths we cry out to you, O Lord
let your ears be attentive to our cry for mercy.
If you, O lord, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness;
therefore you are worshiped.
Our souls wait for you,
more than night watchmen wait for morning.
We put our hope in you, Lord
because you have unfailing love
and full redemption
and we need to trust in that now.
Amen”

And then I repeat the blessing for all of us.

“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his face upon you and give you peace. Amen.”

Conclusion

And then I let the funeral director say “This concludes the service.”

Military honors (if appropriate)

According to the Department of Defense, military honors means that an honor guard “performs at the funeral a ceremony that includes the folding of a U.S. flag, presentation of the flag to the designated flag recipient, and the playing of Taps.”[2] It can include a rifle salute (three volleys, not twenty-one). This part of the graveside service most often happens at the end of the service, after all of the non-military portions, including the benediction.

The reason is simple. No one is able to speak after “Taps”.

After the service

Talk to the family who are seated. A simple handshake and “I’m sorry” or “God bless you” is enough. If they want to hug or to talk briefly, that’s appropriate.

If you rode to the cemetery with the director, don’t feel the need to stay. This is a time for people to start shifting from the seriousness and solemnity of the services into other kinds of conversation. They will need to take these steps without you present. If you aren’t staying because of being family or friend, you can leave when the director leaves.

A Sample Message for a Graveside Service

Several years ago, I led a graveside service for a woman who had just died of complications from Alzheimer’s. In the process of preparation, I read Romans 8 in a way that has shaped countless conversations with families since then.

Here are the words I shared on that day.

+++

More than I ever have, as I reflected on Romans 8 this week, I got a glimpse of God’s deep love and compassion for us.

Not in the frequently misquoted Romans 8:28. But in the images around that sentence.

For many years, Polly has been unable to speak of God, or really of anything. Yet, even as Polly was cognitively unaware of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit did not stop interceding on her behalf. Paul talks about the Holy Spirit praying for us, with wordless groans, asking things which are right in the middle of the will of God.

Paul means moments like now, when our hearts are confused about whether to be relieved or sad, and so we cry out “God help”, and the Spirit makes sense of it.

But Paul also means years when God’s people cannot make sense of anything, like Polly and my mom in the middle of their Alzheimer’s. They are still God’s people. And God’s Spirit was still present in Polly, still interceding when she was not, could not.

As the Father searched her heart, he heard the Spirit saying, “Polly is still yours.” And as He searched her heart he knew the mind of the Spirit which is eternally sound. She was, we could say, still in his right mind.

And even as she forgot to talk about Jesus, Jesus did not forget to talk about Polly.  As Paul goes on to say in Romans 8, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, pleading our case, offering his wounds, rejoicing in us.

Polly was, like each of us, all the talk of the Trinity.

 


  1. Psalm 109:21-22.
  2. See DOD INSTRUCTION 1300.15 MILITARY FUNERAL SUPPORT, https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodi/130015p.pdf Accessed 10/24/2019.

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