Christianity 201

February 17, 2013

Solomon’s Advice: Go to a Funeral or Two

Funeral Parking Only

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).

This morning at North Point Community Church, Jeff Henderson spoke on Ecclesiastes 7:2.

“Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies – so the living should take this heart.”

Fun verse, huh? But people in vocational ministry actually spend a whole lot of time at funerals. David Meldrum, a Church of England pastor based in Cape Town, South Africa writes about this:

Beware of what you promise. That’s a maxim which could easily apply to any area of life, but over recent weeks a variety of different promises I made as I stood in an ancient English cathedral less than 3 months before 9/11 have been re-echoing in my mind.

These are the promises made by those about to be ordained – set apart by the church for service in and to the church and the world. The one echoing loudest at the moment is a few simple words: ‘to prepare the dying for their death’.

A cursory reading of that, together with popular assumptions about the role of the vicar/priest/rector, may lead you to assume that the promise is about visiting, spending time with and praying with or for those who are facing death in an immediate sense. Of course that’s part of it – one of the indisputable privileges of my job is to be there in the big moments of life and death.

But there’s much more. One retired priest told me, just before I was ordained, that part of the role and calling of the priest is to ‘think the unthinkable and say the unsayable’. I don’t know if he was quoting someone else or if it was one of his own truisms, but it’s stayed with me. It’s become increasingly true for me in the 11 yeas since – there are times when we’re called to say things that people just don’t want to hear, compelled to speak when everyone else is wearing earphones. The unsayable I’m thinking of here is that ‘the dying’ of that ordination day promise is all of us, all of the time. We’re all dying. Scientists call it entropy – that all things tend towards decay and disorder; part of the calling of someone called by the church to the church and the world is to hold before a community and a people the fact that we’re all dying and the sooner we reconcile ourselves to that fact and live in the light of it, the better.

Of course, like everything, there all sorts of places we could make a serious mis-step here. We could become sour faced misery-peddlars who sneer at anything remotely fun with a ‘not of this world’ air; we could repeatedly scare people into salvation (finding out much later people saved thus often either fall back into old ways or become disturbingly hard-hearted); we could become so concerned with the after-life that we forget to do any good in this life.

All of those and more are dangers we need to constantly check ourselves against. An awareness of death, though, while being a consequence of our insistence on going our own way, can also be something of a gift to the perpetually busy and stressed. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, ESV). To live and love at least with that awareness, that life is a process of preparing to live eternally with the one in whose image we’re made and in whose creation we dwell, should for the Christian be an immensely joyful and liberating process. It should hone our sense of call – what is MY role in preparing all around me for death? How am I pointing people to a bigger, deeper reality? How do I live well in such a way that I will die well?

This doesn’t mean that we don’t cry at funerals or feel absence and loss keenly and deeply. Of course we do. We all do. Death is an enemy. It is horrible. It’s in the nature of God, though, to take that which may seem intended for evil and transfigured it into something deeper and better altogether. Death is horrible. Death is defeated. Death, then, because it is defeated, can help us live well. Now, and forever.

At Daily Encouragement, Stephen and Brooksyne Weber write:

Solomon, writer of Ecclesiastes, states, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.”  This begs the question, in what sense is it better?

Actually, on first instinct, I would much prefer the house of feasting. Consider the family gathered around the table for a big Thanksgiving meal or joining together with friends to watch the Super Bowl and inevitably feasting on addictive snack foods such as guacamole dip with chips, chicken wings or spicy meatballs. We look forward to church fellowship dinners, especially the potluck variety, or a group of friends joining us for a cookout.

But let us consider the sense in which the “house of mourning” is better than the “house of feasting”. The Scriptures are so insightful. They go way beyond skimming the surface to exploring the depths of who we are and how our greatest needs can be met. The reasons that mourning is even more essential than feasting is listed in the following two phrases in the text. In retrospect as I consider the times we have experienced the “house of mourning” I fully understand the writer’s premise.

1) “For death is the destiny of every man.” In other words, death is inevitable. It’s part of the grand plan of how things work as a result of the original fall. Each time we go to the house of mourning this universal reality confronts us. We are reminded that life on this earth is temporary and that we all have an expiration date. Otherwise we might get so caught up in the “here and now” that we don’t make adequate plans for the “there and later”.

2) “The living should take this to heart” The “house of mourning” helps us to consider our heart’s condition and the state of our soul. Of course most of us have been to a variety of house of mournings, yet the tone of the memorial service and the variety of people who gather can make the setting as different as night and day.

I have attended memorials for those who lived outside of Christ where no hope in Christ was presented. I recall one with “Grateful Dead” music being played throughout the gathering. I found that experience to be a spiritually dark place! Anyone attending who might be giving thought to their eternal destiny would surely not find the proper answers to life beyond the grave in a setting like this.

However we consider the blessedness of being in the “house of mourning” of one who lived for Christ. In the service Saturday we heard godly music that lifted the soul, a pastor reminding all in attendance of the need to prepare for their eternal destiny (as requested by Marian who planned her own funeral service). Verbal tributes included a granddaughter who overflowed with tear-filled joy as she gave thanks for Grandma Marian who gave her a Bible and took her to church, where at 16 years of age, she surrendered her life to Jesus.

The Webers ended with a reference to a related text, Hebrews 9:27-28:

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

…and added this prayer:

Father, we rejoice in the feasting periods and reflect in the mourning periods of our life. The richest experiences that shape our character are from the great highs and the deep lows we encounter over a lifetime. Not only do we spend time reflecting, studying, and learning from these experiences, but they speak to us of the importance of who we are in the midst of those circumstances. In the house of feasting we rejoice in our accomplishments and those of others from year to year. But in the house of mourning we consider the lives of those who go before us, seeking to mirror the good we witnessed or experienced from their lives. It prompts us to assess our own hearts. Are we ready should You call us to our eternal destiny? We know that planning for this life is important, but planning for the next life is absolutely essential. We want to be ready by receiving Jesus into our life and living according to Your plan as revealed in the Bible. By Your grace we can do so through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

1 Comment »

  1. It seems the older we get, the more funerals we attend. I can’t help contrasting those of believers with those of ones who have no hope or who have a false hope. We attended a service for a 94 year old warrior for God last week. No one could have left that service without feeling challenged and no one could say they had never heard the Gospel clearly presented. I wish we could have stayed to talk with some later. It wasn’t possible but I’m sure others would have used the opportunity.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — February 24, 2013 @ 11:56 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: