Last week I attended a memorial service and this week officiated at a funeral. They’re heavy times emotionally but also times of reflection for me. The value of that mourning and reflection has been lost on some people today. When David Bowie passed away last year, according to his wishes he had a “direct cremation,” without any funeral service. He was just gone without an opportunity even for family to mourn his loss. People who opt for this often do so to have a celebration instead – beach parties and theme events are trendy. One person I know asked for everyone to gather at the house with a bottle of wine instead of the more depressing funeral option. Are funerals outdated traditions? Should we replace them with happier substitutes? Or maybe just do away with them altogether?
Every time I attend a funeral I’m reminded of Ecclesiastes 7:2 It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. I think of this verse at funerals to remind myself of the value of the ceremony and all that it can accomplish in my life. While both have their place, mourning is better than feasting. To be sure, a good funeral celebrates a person’s life. It reflects on the person’s legacy and the lessons that should be learned from their life. Without pausing to remember, we’re more than likely to forget. But it also gives an opportunity to mourn – to recognize the loss that the person’s passing brings to us. Any counselor will warn that a loss that is ignored or denied often brings long-term grief. Just drinking a few glasses of wine and pretending that it’s all good, doesn’t really help anyone. When Jesus attended his friend’s funeral, even He wept.
At the conference I attended after Monday afternoon’s service, the speaker testified to the impact that a failure to grieve can have in a person’s life. At age eleven, he came home to hear that his mother had been killed in a car accident. Unfortunately, his father was too overcome by grief, himself, to support him. When his father arrived home he walked right past him to his room and closed the door. His father never mentioned the mother’s name again. Instead he told him that “big boys don’t cry,” and modeled a cold stoicism. When the speaker turned 50, after 39 years of denial, he was confronted with the reality that he was an emotional shell of a man and went through a burnout. One of the steps toward healing was the realization that he hadn’t visited his mother’s grave since the funeral, and more importantly that he had never been given permission to grieve her loss. Last week’s memorial and this week’s funeral reminded me of the value of human life and helped me to confront my loss and experience a measure of closure in the process.
But the verse from Ecclesiastes gives me another reason why going to funerals is healthier for me than just going to parties. Funerals remind me of my destiny in a way that parties don’t. Funerals don’t just strike a minor key because of the loss we feel. They also force us to confront the reality of our own mortality. The Bible says that’s a good thing. A life that just continues in ease and celebration ignores human destiny. It teaches that we ought to “take to heart” the fact that “death is the destiny of everyone.” I was reminded this week how easy it is for me to start thinking that things will just continue as they are forever – but they won’t. The funeral helped me to think about my marriage, my children, my faith, and my God. It helped me to think about how I’ll be remembered and what lessons the people around me will draw from my life. More than anything it helped me to think about what lies beyond. The reality that Hebrews 9:27 confronts: it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment and the hope that John 3:16 holds out: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Funerals are good for my soul and I fear the loss that their passing would be to our culture.
In awe of Him,