Solomon once wrote:
"It is better to go to a house of mourning
This past weekend, our family of three traveled ten hours to east Ohio for the funeral of one of Amber's family (we'll call her T) who died after a tough fight with cancer. She was married to J and left four children, the youngest of which is just three - born just a couple weeks after our daughter, Anna, thus rending our hearts a bit more than usual.
Could it really be that it's better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting? Was this just the melancholic rant of a jaded cynic? Wouldn't it be better for us to just avoid the house of mourning and remain in the house of pleasure? Or, was Solomon on to something? Was he able to see, as CS Lewis says, "along the beam" of suffering and death, rather than merely staring straight into the beam and being so blinded to miss the point?
Death is the end of all mankind. If we only remain in the house of pleasure, we deny that which lays before us. There is no other door for us to walk through. Our bodies will each decay and perish. If that is so, where is hope? What is this life for? What am I living for? Is there life beyond the grave?
The house of mourning affords the opportunity to stop and reflect on these ultimate questions. In our pleasure-seeking, entertainment-driven, distraction-oriented culture, the house of mourning demands of us to stop, be still and listen.
While sitting in the pew among a crowd of observers while the piano played beautiful melodies, listening to the pastor share intimate insights from T's final moments, standing in the cemetery among the gravestones while the cool autumn winds blew. I had the chance to reflect. Everyone who came to the funeral had this opportunity - a rare opportunity to learn from T's suffering and death. It was not wasted.
In a final journal entry she pointed to her hope found in 1 Peter 1:3-6 - "
These words were originally penned to a community of saints who were suffering some of the greatest persecution ever to befall Christians. If anyone ever knew the physical pains and sufferings associated with physical death, it was this group. Peter pointed them to the profound and unheralded hope which we, as believers in Jesus Christ, have because of his resurrection.
Resurrection: a word redefined, magnified, rightly positioned and personified by none other than Jesus of Nazareth.
In one of the intimate portraits that the pastor painted, he shared an exchange between J & T. As T fought against the raging effects of cancer on her body, J told her he was praying for a miracle from the Lord. But, he said, the good news is that Jesus has already provided that miracle - through his resurrection! T was in a "win-win" situation, he said; either she pulls through or she dies in the living hope of the resurrection.
There is more to life than meets the eye. Just as a window in a mountain cabin exists to provide a view to a greater vista beyond, so can death provide us with a view into deeper realities which lie beyond. Whether we are given 30, 40, 50 or 100 years on this earth, we are just a "mere mist", James writes. But death doesn't have the final word. Through Jesus Christ, we can say "Where, O death, is your victory?