Planning a funeral is a somber responsibility for anyone. When thinking about funeral readings that are most appropriate to honor the deceased individual, you have many uplifting choices from both religious and non-religious texts.
Uplifting Funeral Scripture Readings
It's common when attending Christian funerals to hear the pastor, deacon or family members read from the Bible. These verses often cover themes of support and the cycle of life and death.
This verse starts with the loving line, "Do not let your hearts be troubled." (New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition) The reading comes from some of Jesus' last words to his apostles to prepare them for his death and for their eventual entrance into the kingdom of Heaven when they die.
This beautiful verse is familiar to many because of the folk song Turn! Turn! Turn! by Pete Seeger. Its inspiring words instruct mourners that death is part of the cycle of life and should be welcomed rather than feared. "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted." (Revised Standard Version)
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
This verse is often used at funerals for children because of its comforting and inspiring message that death is not the end of things. "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (New International Version)
Psalm 121 - A Song of Ascents
Psalm 121 is a well-loved choice for funerals in the Jewish and Christian traditions. It lets mourners remember that God is there for them always, "I lift up my eyes to the mountains - where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord." God is presented as a loving guardian throughout one's life and death: "He will not let your foot slip - he who watches over you will not slumber." (NIV)
This reading from the Old Testament is also appropriate for both Jewish and Christian ceremonies. The verses have a message of hope that the mourner will still find God and the light in the end despite their present travails.
"Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be my light." (NIV)
Non-Religious Funeral Readings
Not all funeral readings need to be religious and if you prefer non-religious verses, you can discuss this with your pastor or rabbi during the planning. Non-religious verses are also generally preferred when the deceased was not religious.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
This poem by Dylan Thomas has a stirring, emotionally laden message that encourages us all to continue living our fullest and fighting for what we believe in. It's a powerful poem that fits in well with a funeral for any individual but especially one who has given their life heroically, such as a first responder or member of the military. The poem begins with the verses:
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Traditional Irish Blessing
A well-known and short Irish blessing makes for a beautiful and positive reading at a funeral. Though it does have some religious overtones, it can be appreciated at a non-religious service as well for its cheery and forward-thinking tone. The last two lines are:
"the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand."
Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, wrote a stirring poem called Remember Me that is often read at funerals. The short poem comforts the audience by reminding them to remember the deceased's many gifts and accomplishments in life rather than feeling sad and lost at their passing. A sampling of the poem's lines includes:
"So as you stand upon a shore, gazing at a beautiful sea - remember me.
As you look in awe at a mighty forest and its grand majesty - remember me.
As you look upon a flower and admire its simplicity - remember me."
Roads Go Ever On
This beautiful poem comes from the acclaimed fantasy novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. The poem's peaceful, environmental imagery makes for a soothing and moving view on the passing of a loved one and a future without them. There are several versions of the poem throughout the books. It begins with these verses:
"Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;"
Dear Lovely Death
The African-American poet and activist Langston Hughes wrote a poem that is an inspirational reading for memorials. The poem depicts death as simply a change of being and gives a positive framing of the passing of a family member or friend. The last few lines are particularly poignant:
"Dear lovely Death,
Change is thy other name."
Funeral Readings for a Parent or Child
Losing a mother or father can be a deeply traumatic event and likewise, the loss of a child is an emotionally fraught time for parents. These readings can be especially relevant during funerals for a lost parent or child.
This lovely and heartwarming poem by Kelly Roper evokes the memories of a mother that can be applicable to anyone. It includes memories such as:
"But most of all, I'll remember how I felt
When she said to me, "I love you."
That was the best feeling in the world,
To know this very special woman
Loved me with all her heart."
A Poem for Daddy in Heaven
This poem by Michele Meleen can be read at a funeral for a father by either a young or adult child. It expresses a son or daughter's love for their father and the belief that their memory is still alive in them:
"I know you can hear me
way up in heaven
because we talk
through our hearts."
Worth the Cost
This poem by Kelly Roper is a good selection for a funeral for a child because it can work well for a religious or non-religious ceremony. The poem gently relates how the birth of a child and their short time on earth was still worth all the pain of losing them:
"It was worth every pain, every tear shed,
Because I treasure the love you inspired in me."
Popular Funeral Readings
There are many readings that are used often at funerals because their message is so powerful. Many of these come from scripture as well as beloved classic and modern poetry.
One of the most popular readings at both Christian and Jewish funerals is Psalm 23 and even non-religious people may be familiar with its most famous lines, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" and "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me;" (King James Version). The Psalm's strength is its message of God's comfort and support in a time of great emotional upheaval which makes it a fitting choice for a funeral.
Psalm 46:1-11 or Luther's Psalm
Known as the "song of holy confidence," this compassionate verse is popular at funerals. It reminds listeners that God will support us even when life is difficult and hard to bear. It includes the stirring words, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof." (Authorized King James Version)
Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep
This non-religious poem is a popular funeral reading because it encourages the mourner to envision a positive future and to remember the deceased when they view the beauty in nature. It is believed to have been written by florist Mary Elizabeth Frye. Some verses in the poem include:
"Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow."
If I Should Die Before the Rest of You
Another poem that works well for both a religious or non-religious ceremony is this short work of poetry by Joyce Grenfell. The verses encourage the audience not to become depressed over their death but remain their normal selves and enjoy life. The last couple of lines are:
"Weep if you must, Parting is hell,
But Life goes on, So sing as well."
Finding the Best Reading for a Funeral Service
You can find inspiration for the most appropriate readings for a funeral by looking at the life of the deceased and finding themes that would have meant the most to them, and that will resonate with friends and family. You can find some beautiful and uplifting passages from The Bible, as well as poetry written by others or original compositions created by yourself and other mourners.