The funeral Lectionary offers three official passages from the book of Revelation. That very short passage about dead believers finding rest in Christ. One on the New Heaven and New Earth (Rev 21:1-8). And today’s on the Last Judgment (Rev 20:11-15)
For a funeral’s first reading during the Easter season, between the Triduum and Pentecost, it would be most appropriate to choose one of the three Revelation readings, or the one from Acts. Other times of the liturgical year, these passages would be proclaimed as the New Testament selection–after the Psalm. Some clergy are less strict about this. Given that votive Masses may be celebrated during the Easter season with Old Testament readings, and some pastors tend to permit a family’s choice in Scriptures, there doesn’t seem to be a hard line about it. I would tend to offer the acts and Revelation readings as first choices. But if a funeral liturgy were pre-planned, or there were otherwise good reasons, I’d be generous with allowing that first text to be from the Hebrew Scriptures.
That said, you have to have guts to proclaim and preach the Last Judgment at a funeral. If there’s any doubt about the deceased, John’s testimony may not be all that comforting:
Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it.
The earth and the sky fled from his presence
and there was no place for them.
I saw the dead, the great and the lowly,
standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened.
Then another scroll was opened, the book of life.
The dead were judged according to their deeds,
by what was written in the scrolls.
The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead.
All the dead were judged according to their deeds.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire.
(This pool of fire is the second death.)
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life
was thrown into the pool of fire.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The former heaven and the former earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
That last verse gives a hopeful conclusion (Rev 21:1), and leads into the passage describing New Heaven and New Earth (Rev 21:1-8). But that’s another post on another day.
The dead here in verse 12 refer to 20:5, “the rest of the dead,” in other words, the non-faithful who have yet to pass muster in the coming Reign. If the deceased is considered to be a strong disciple, this reading wouldn’t really apply, would it?
As for this “pool of fire,” the Witness reports here that death and hell (in personified form) are cast into this pool. What does this mean? It would seem that utter destruction is in store not only for these aspects of the universe, but for human beings whose names were not written in the book of life. This seems contrary to the more common understanding of hell as a place of eternal punishment. Is it true that evil will simply be erased from existence at the end? Including people who have consciously chosen evil?
Fascinating and intriguing material, to be sure. Great discussion to have with theologians over a beer or something. Fitting for a funeral? Tread with care, I would say. What about you?