Questions and Answers – Attending Sabbath Funerals

In Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (1915), 252, Sister White describes the death and burial of her husband, James.

“The next morning he [James] seemed slightly to revive, but about noon he had a chill, which left him unconscious. At 5 P.M., Sabbath, August 6, 1881, he quietly breathed his life away, without a struggle or a groan.

“The shock of my husband’s death—so sudden, so unexpected—fell upon me with crushing weight. In my feeble condition I had summoned strength to remain at his bedside to the last; but when I saw his eyes closed in death, exhausted nature gave way, and I was completely prostrated. For some time I seemed balancing between life and death. The vital flame burned so low that a breath might extinguish it. At night my pulse would grow feeble, and my breathing fainter and fainter till it seemed about to cease. Only by the blessing of God and the unremitting care and watchfulness of physician and attendants was my life preserved.

“Though I had not risen from my sick-bed after my husband’s death, I was borne to the Tabernacle on the following Sabbath to attend his funeral. [Emphasis added.] At the close of the sermon I felt it a duty to testify to the value of the Christian’s hope in the hour of sorrow and bereavement. As I arose, strength was given me, and I spoke about ten minutes, exalting the mercy and love of God in the presence of that crowded assembly. At the close of the services I followed my husband to Oak Hill Cemetery, where he was laid to rest until the morning of the resurrection.

“My physical strength had been prostrated by the blow, yet the power of divine grace sustained me in my great bereavement. When I saw my husband breathe his last, I felt that Jesus was more precious to me than He ever had been in any previous hour of my life. When I stood by my first-born, and closed his eyes in death, I could say, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’ [Job 1:21]. And I felt then that I had a comforter in Jesus. And when my latest born was torn from my arms, and I could no longer see its little head upon the pillow by my side, then I could say, ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ And when he upon whose large affections I had leaned, with whom I had labored for thirty-five years, was taken away, I could lay my hands upon his eyes, and say, ‘I commit my treasure to Thee until the morning of the resurrection.’ ”

Though this experience is not advocating for Sabbath funerals, it is clearly seen that it is not wrong. You will notice that there was a whole week for the preparations to be made for the burial before the actual funeral service and the body interred.

Often in Western culture, family and friends bury or cremate the dead in a private service, and then later hold a memorial service, which is often held on Sabbath so many are able to attend.