Every so often, I encounter a person who finds themselves overwhelmed with the number of choices for a Bible reading. Especially for a wedding or a funeral.
With a wedding, a couple has some weeks or months to decide. They can pray about it, procrastinate a bit, or even leaf through the pages and put a finger on a spot. When a death in the family occurs, there is far less time. Clergy and ministers I’ve known may steer mourners to the most common choices. Often swamped in grief, some people just grab to something like it’s a life preserver.
Earlier this week, I noticed a comment on the Funeral Reading page here:
I would like a reading for a funeral. Several of them. I am a good Catholic but I just don’t know how to choose. I like a lot of them. Are psalms good to use ?
When I work with people, I ask some basic questions that might narrow the field of possibilities.
Do you want the reading to tell something about God? By this I mean a story about his action–the Creation of the world, the Passion, or some citation of a prophetic message.
Do you want the reading to describe some desired quality? Is it important to proclaim a certain virtue such as love, forgiveness, hope, mercy, etc.?
Do you want a reading that is somewhat reflective of a person or of a couple? Does the passage describe the ideal wife or husband or believer?
At a funeral or a wedding, perhaps a balance is suggested. One reading might point to the holy qualities of the deceased, say Proverbs 31. Another might allude to the quality of hope, something for the benefit of mourners. The Gospel might relate something of the preaching of Jesus.
An additional consideration for funerals would be some Scripture passage that addresses the state of the family and friends. Particularly if a death was shocking or sudden, some way to address a community’s pain would be well-considered.
These thoughts are necessarily vague–each instance of a funeral or wedding has unique dynamics. The person responsible for planning a funeral, be that persona priest or pastoral minister, really needs a fairly broad grasp of the possibilities contained in the Lectionary and Bible, and a sensitivity to make connections with the particular circumstances.
Remember, the Bible is less a single book and more a small library of 1.5 million words. There are always possibilities to explore.