We know that we have passed from death to life
because we love our brothers and sisters.
Whoever does not love remains in death.
You who hate your brother or sister is a murderer,
and you know that no murderer
has eternal life remaining in them.
The way we came to know love
was that he laid down his life for us;
so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
This is a curious choice for the funeral Lectionary. That’s probably why I’ve never been to a funeral that used this Scripture passage.
On the other hand, this passage (especially 3:14) parallels Jesus’ words in a choice of Gospel for the funeral, John 5:24-29, “(W)hoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.” The author emphasizes that this transition has happened in the past for the (still living) believer. In the reference of the gospel and the letter, thehearers are presumed to be in the state of “life,” as members of the household of God (note: brothers and sisters).
What about the “hate”? A view beyond this pericope finds John’s reference to Cain and Abel in verse 12. There is also the allusion to Jesus’ warning against anger in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-22). Neither of these passages are included as funeral options. For the occasional worshiper langing in a funeral, this discussion of hate might seem out of context. My sense would be that “hate” might need some comment from the homilist. But given the circumstances, why not steer the choice to something less jarring.
Verse 16 obviously picks up the theme from Christ himself in his John 10 Good Shepherd narrative. The imitation of Christ: this is what we strive for. Did the deceased exemplify this laying down of life? Did she or he renounce hate and embrace love? Does it make sense to add the John 5:24-29 reading to the funeral liturgies? If so, perhaps this brief reflection on the journey from death to life, from hate to love, makes sense for a funeral. But be cautious about the guests and what might prick their ears.