This is an article for those looking for hymns that could be suitable for a Funeral or Memorial Service (or, as they are sometimes called today, a Celebration of Life). When I talk to the family after a loved one has died, I have a list of such hymns ready to make suggestions, in case they’re not sure what is needed. Sometimes, the individual will have made known his or her preferences, but other times not.
If at all possible, avoid weaker gospel songs such as In the Garden. I realize it’s a favourite of some, but it has limited value as far as a clear devotional or doctrinal message. If the departed person had a strong Christian faith, there may be a particular desire for a gospel emphasis to the service. In that case, hymns such as Jesus Paid It All (by Elvina Hall), The Solid Rock (by Edward Mote), My Hope Is in the Lord (by Norman Clayton) or No Other Plea (by Lidie Edmunds, a pen name for Eliza Edmunds Hewitt), any of these would give a clear testimony.
The hymns below put more of an emphasis on comfort and encouragement, and a number speak specifically of our heavenly home. Many of them have interesting and relevant stories related to the author or the circumstances under which the hymn was written. These might be helpful in a devotional message. (Many such stories are found on this blog, or on the Cyber Hymnal.)
If you are a pastor, the following list should give you ideas for possible choices. And if you are to be the organist, you will want a good supply of hymns to be played before, and possibly after the service as people are filing out. For the accompanist, I suggest you put copies of possible hymns in a binder. Then you will have a ready made selection to be used when the time comes.
Not long ago, my wife and I attended a Memorial Service at which there were clearly a large number of hymn lovers in attendance, a love that was shared by the woman who had passed away. We spent fifteen or twenty minutes, singing hymns and gospel songs. Words were projected on the front wall, so we could sing one song after another without interruption or instruction. It was a wonderful experience! I recommend it as an option.
With those few thoughts, here are some possible hymns and gospel songs to consider, selections old and new, but all, I believe, with something worthwhile to say:
Abide with Me (Henry Lyte)
After (N. B. Vandall)
Amazing Grace (John Newton)
Be Still, My Soul (Katharina von Schlegel)
Come, Ye Disconsolate (Thomas Moore)
Does Jesus Care? (Frank Graeff)
Face to Face (Carrie Breck)
Farther Along (Baxter and Stevens)
God Understands (Oswald Smith)
God Will Take Care of You (Civilla Martin)
How Blest a Home! (Janetta Trench)
In Heavenly Love Abiding (Anna Waring)
It Is Well with My Soul (Horatio Spafford)
Jesus, Lover of My Soul (Charles Wesley)
My Faith Looks Up to Thee (Ray Palmer)
My Home, Sweet Home (N. B. Vandall)
My Jesus, I Love Thee (William Featherstone)
My Saviour First of All (Fanny Crosby)
Near to the Heart of God (Cleland McAfee)
Nearer, My God, to Thee (Sarah Adams)*
No Night There (John Clements)
No Tears in Heaven (Robert Arnold)
O That Will Be Glory (Charles Gabriel)
Precious Lord, Take My Hand (Thomas Dorsey)
Precious Name (Lydia Baxter)**
Rock of Ages (Augustus Toplady)
Safe in the Arms of Jesus (Fanny Crosby)
Saved by Grace (Fanny Crosby)
Shall We Gather at the River? (Robert Lowry)
Still, Still with Thee (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
Sweet By and By (Sanford Bennett)
Tell It to Jesus (Jeremiah Rankin)
The Sands of Time Are Sinking (Ann Cousin)
The Lord’s My Shepherd (to the tune Crimond)
Until Then (Stuart Hamblen)
We Shall See His Lovely Face (Norman Clayton)
What a Friend We Have in Jesus (Joseph Scriven)
When We See Christ (Esther Rusthoi)
Where the Gates Swing Outward Never (Charles Gabriel)
Where the Roses Never Fade (Jack & Elsie Osborn, James Miller)
*If you use Nearer, My God, to Thee, be sure to include the added stanza by Henry Bickersteth (you can find it on the Cyber Hymnal).
**Precious Name is also called Take the Name of Jesus with You.
If there are other hymns you have used on such occasions, songs that are not on the above list, please add a comment to the blog, and give us your suggestions.