Lutheran Funerals: Service, Readings & What to Expect

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By looking closely at religious funerals, we gain insight into unique customs that have stood the test of time. One of the most well-known sects of Christianity is the Lutheran branch of the church.

Like other Christian funerals, Lutherans find peace in these services, readings, and traditions. 

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However, the Lutheran belief system differs from other types of Christianity. This leads to some key differences in funeral practices. The main difference is that Lutherans typically believe God’s forgiveness isn’t something that one earns throughout their lifetime.

Instead, it’s granted only by the grace of God. Let’s take a closer look at Lutheran funerals to understand how they differ from other Christian funeral practices. 

COVID-19 tip: If you're planning a virtual Lutheran funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you can still adapt many of these traditions, like wakes, prayers, and traditional music, to include your online guests. Brainstorm with your funeral director, event planner, or religious leader to help you figure out the logistics or any limitations.

Lutheran Funeral Traditions Explained

Lutheran funeral traditions begin before the individual dies. Death is considered a part of life, and people who are terminally ill or aging reach out to the church for support.

The church doesn’t have extremely strict rules about what is or isn’t allowed at a Lutheran funeral, so traditions might vary by location and family. 

Order of service

If someone suspects death is on the horizon, they’re to contact their pastor. The pastor and the church assist the family during this time, and this is often an involved process. Having the support of the church makes this transition to one’s final resting place much less stressful for everyone. 

It’s not uncommon for Lutherans to have a viewing, wake, or visitation before the funeral. Embalming is acceptable, and many Lutherans choose to be embalmed as part of their final burial. The funeral service itself is traditionally at a church and includes a worship service to remind everyone they are in the eyes of God. 

The order of service includes hymns, litany, a reading from the Old and New Testament, Gospel readings, and the Lord’s Prayer. Holy Communion is also a part of the ceremony for everyone included in the service. These services are open to the entire church community, not just mourners and immediate family. 

Hymns and other music

Hymns and music are a large part of Lutheran funerals. These familiar, uplifting funeral hymns and songs are a source of comfort for friends and family of the deceased.

They’re a reminder that it’s only through God that individuals are redeemed. The most common hymns and songs for memorials are:

  • “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”
  • “Be Still My Soul” 
  • “O God Our Help In Ages Past”
  • “Amazing Grace”
  • “Nearer My God to Thee”

Prayers

Prayers are another way to feel closer to god. There is no strict guideline about what prayers can and cannot be said during a funeral. 

It’s typically up to the interpretation from the pastor in charge of the service, and the family might request specific prayers that meant a lot to the deceased. Common funeral prayers include:

  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • The Lord Is My Shepherd
  • Almighty God
  • Lord of All We Praise You
  • Heavenly Father
  • God Be In My Head

Eulogies

One thing that differs in Lutheran funerals compared to other Christian funerals is the lack of eulogies. Because Lutherans believe that salvation is by grace alone and not through our individual actions on earth, eulogies are rarely included in the service. To talk about one’s accomplishments boastfully is a sign of disrespect in front of the church. 

Instead of a eulogy, the pastor shares details about the deceased’s life during the worship. Throughout their overall message, they’ll talk about the importance of grace and eternal life before god.

Each pastor has their own way of memorializing the deceased throughout their service. Otherwise, the family saves their eulogies and words about the deceased for the funeral repast.

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Lutheran Post-Funeral Customs

Unlike other traditions, there’s no mourning period or other necessary memorial events. This is left to the family.

It’s very common for most families to host some kind of repast event with close friends and family, and they might also include a burial service. 

Repast

A repast is an informal meal hosted by the family of the deceased after the service. This is something that’s common in a lot of traditions around the world, but it’s not a strict part of Lutheran services. While Lutheran followers are unlikely to have an extravagant event after the funeral, repasts are common. 

The family typically hosts the repast at their home. The bereaved family prepares food or it’s catered. Sometimes guests bring food as well. There is no religious service in the home.

This is an informal opportunity for friends and family to come together, share stories, and talk about the deceased. 

Burial

In the Lutheran faith, both burial and cremation are acceptable ways to lay a body to rest. If the family chooses to bury their loved one, guests are usually invited to attend the burial ceremony. This is typically immediately after the funeral service. 

The pastor leads a service at the gravesite with prayers. The caskets and grave are blessed by the pastor at the conclusion of the service. If the individual is cremated, there won’t be an additional burial service. 

Lutheran Funeral Etiquette

Like any funeral, there are specific things you should know about before attending. Being aware of up-to-date funeral etiquette ensures you’re respectful to the deceased’s legacy and the mourning family. 

Praying together

One of the most important parts of a Lutheran funeral is prayer. If you’re Christian, it’s expected that you stand, kneel, and participate with the prayers.

If you’re not Christian, you’re still welcome to the service. However, it’s still polite to stand with the congregation. You may sit if you choose not to kneel. 

Arrive on time

Things happen, and sometimes you’re not always able to arrive at the funeral on time. While it’s best to always arrive early, you are still welcome if you arrive a bit late. 

However, it’s not appropriate to enter during the procession or while the pastor is saying prayers. Wait until there’s a pause in the service and take the nearest available seat. 

Gifts and sympathy

If you’re close to the family or the deceased, it’s a sign of respect to send a note to offer your sympathy as soon as you learn about the passing.

Unless expressed otherwise by the family, it is a kind gesture to send flowers to the church for the service or the bereaved family’s home. Some families also welcome charitable contributions or a donation to the church. 

Don’t bring gifts directly to the service. This is a time for mourning, and the family likely won’t know what to do with them at this time. If you’re unable to mail your card or flowers prior to the service, bring them to the repast. 

Dress conservatively

While Lutheran isn’t a strictly conservative religion, it’s always a good idea to dress appropriately for a funeral service. You don’t need to wear black clothing, but you should avoid bright colors or prints. Any neutral is a smart choice. 

Skirts and dresses should be an appropriate length, and all clothes should be in good condition. This is a sign of respect, so the focus can be on the service and the mourning family. The repast at the family’s home is much more casual, though many wear the same thing to the repast as the service. 

Saying Goodbye to a Loved One

Like other Christian faiths, there’s a focus on the church during these funeral services. There are only a few differences that make Lutheran funerals stand out from other Christian denominations, specifically in relation to the view of redemption through grace alone. 

Death is a new beginning for many Christians. It’s an opportunity to grow closer to God and all of those who came before. As such, funerals aren’t always sad events.

There are a lot of positive moments to bring people together and lift the family higher. While saying goodbye to a family member is never easy, it doesn’t have to be a challenge. 


Sources

  1. Duckworth, Chris. “A Pastor’s Approach to Funerals.” Living Lutheran. 13 March 2013. LivingLutheran.org
  2. “Redeemer Lutheran Church Suggested Hymns & Songs For Memorial Services.” Redeemer Lutheran Church. 13 March 1998. RedeemerConnect.com
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