As a funeral director, I think one of the wisest passages concerning grief and celebration is straight from the (Episcopal) Book of Common Prayer:
“The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.
The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This joy, however, does not make human grief unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend. So, while we rejoice that one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who mourn.”
That line about Easter joy not making human grief unchristian… There is a tension between the two, another paradox, with the truth lying, not in compromising, but in affirming two seemingly contradictory positions, like work and grace, or One and Three.
Some people I see try to deny one of the two – either fall apart in human grief and not see or affirm the resurrection (often because, Christian or not they don’t believe it), or “Celebrate a Life” – either a life lived (for non- or semi- Christian folk) or the new life, for Christians. But it sometimes seems the “celebration” is by sheer will-power.
Most of all, our encounters with God, especially in ritual, must be characterized by reality. God *IS*. He said His name is *I AM* not *I SEEM TO BE* Grief and pain are real. Grace and resurrection are real. Start with those facts, and use liturgy that embraces and gives voice to truth, while teaching greater truth.
In certain periods over the last two decades I have had the honor of assisting in the funerals of many nuns from a “retirement” convent nearby.
I’m not Roman Catholic, nor particularly in awe of monastics. But these ladies get it. I rarely see other people so consistently simple, matter-of-fact about death, broken in grief, and raised up in Christian triumph as these ladies model for me almost every time.