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It’s at least a small step up from the ham buns now.

The funeral home staff orders some nice chicken salad on croissants, and I always hope that there will be enough of that delicious broccoli salad left over that I’ll find some in the church kitchen the next day. But the typical funeral lunch at my church does indeed include ham on a white bread roll, to which mourners can add their own mustard or mayonnaise, as they choose.

After we’ve spoken of the life and legacy of the deceased, and after we’ve preached about the power and hope of the resurrection, we gather in a separate room in the building for a meal which is part of a certain subcultural script. The whole meal is referred to as “ham buns,” and those in the subculture can picture the rest of the menu and the setting. Some kind of pasta salad, potato chips, lemonade, and coffee. A generation or two ago, this was also a common wedding reception: ham buns in the church basement.

But I’ve come to see this serviceable, if bland, meal as signifying something powerful. It is part of a broader habit of the community, a way in which the church lives out its purpose and mission.

Even though the funeral is a “family affair,” as the church order of the Christian Reformed Church used to put it, we’re enacting the church’s mission on these days, too. In the funeral service, we remember and give thanks for the life of the one who has died. We pray for God’s care in our grief, lamenting our loss and asking for God’s comfort. And most importantly, we bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death. I read 1 Thessalonians 4:13 in every funeral I lead: “We do not grieve as those without hope.”

I love how some Reformed denominations refer to the funeral as a “Service of Witness to the Resurrection.” It’s the unique thing about a Christian funeral. Anyone can remember the life of a person who has died, but only the church can communicate the hope that the resurrection of Jesus brings us in the presence of death. The gospel is proclaimed when we respond to death by saying not just that we loved the person who died and that God will comfort us in our grief, but by saying also that Christ is risen.

But the church’s mission extends beyond the proclamation at the funeral itself to the community’s presence in the events surrounding the funeral. I have seen the simple meal function in my own congregation as the enactment of a community of resurrection hope. 

At every funeral, a group of church members shows up and serves lunch. They lay out the sandwiches and bring fresh pots of coffee around to all the tables. Usually, the people who serve are friends of the deceased because they were part of the same congregation. Sometimes, though, they have never even met them; maybe the servers are new to the congregation and the person who died was homebound for the past several years. They just come and serve lunch because this is what the church does. The meal is not fancy, but they show up.

When people show up in times of need, in times of death and loss, I see it as the church’s simple proclamation of hope. This is also a witness to the resurrection. These are the same people who sent cards when the person was ill, and they’ll send cards again now to the surviving family. They’ll bring over a pan of enchiladas or send an Uber Eats gift card. They attend the funeral or come to the visitation, sometimes not because they were particularly close to the person, but because showing up is what we do.

Someone said once of our church: “We do funerals well.” They didn’t just mean the music and the preaching; they meant that the community shows up for worship and then serves lunch and encourages the family afterwards. Sometimes lately there is more than one funeral in the same week, but the community does not weary of showing up to hear the resurrection gospel and share hospitality with one another. “Ham buns again” is okay when we are living out the church’s mission together.

Tom Long describes the Christian funeral as a worshipful drama. “As the church has been traveling with the baptized saint along the road of faith, the church now walks with the deceased on ‘the last mile of the way’ to the place of farewell” (Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral. Westminster John Knox, 2009). The presence of the Christian community at the funeral marks the fact that we have walked the pilgrim road together in this life, and the deceased now walks with the great cloud of witnesses in the life to come. The gathering of the church, for the funeral itself and then for a meal at which stories are shared and hugs are exchanged, is a holy act of worshipful hope.

Rebecca Jordan Heys

Rebecca Jordan Heys is the Minister of Worship and Pastoral Care at Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


  • jack roeda says:

    The funeral as a”Service of Witness to the Resurrection”,
    thank you for reminding us.

  • Rodger Rice says:

    Something quite ordinary, God makes extraordinary. Brilliant, Pastor Rebecca. Simply brilliant. Thanks.

  • Ron Rozema says:

    I’ll remember this inspiration the next time I eat ham buns… most likely after a funeral.

  • RZ says:

    “Service of Witness to The Resurrection.” Yes!
    Nothing like a memorial service to trigger thoughts about the after-life and the beyond-life, an evangelistic opportunity that must be seized, a most teachable moment.
    Roman Catholics consider it a sacramental event worthy of the Lord’s Supper. Our ham- buns tradition speaks similarly. You have shed light on something simple that is actually quite holy!

  • June Huissen says:

    Thanks Pastor Rebecca. As I plan the music and scripture as well as other details for my own service and seem to be attending more and more funeral/memorial services of late, I think of the phrase ‘communion of the saints.’ Such an important time for personal reflection and support for grieving families. All over ham buns.
    June Huissen

  • Kathy Davelaar VanRees says:

    I love this. Rebecca. So many ham-buns-at-church in my 73 years of living. Your words blessed me today.

  • David VanderHaagen says:

    Ham Buns, Ham Buns,Don’t you see
    You were born in the CRC.
    Lime jello, Lime jello, with a pear
    You can’t get it just anywhere.

  • Laura de Jong says:

    Yes to all of this! These rituals and practices are how we enact the drama of being the body of Christ, belonging to one another…I love all of this.

  • Gertrude Bokhout says:

    Thank you Pastor Rebecca. I often wonder how many would come to my funeral and ham buns service after not being able to attend services due to aging limitations in the future but you have assured me of the love of ‘the church’ and gives me peace. I certainly don’t want anything fancy so “ham buns” are just fine. Thanks for your love and wisdom.

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