Recently I conducted a funeral for a friend. It was a graveside service and I stood at a lectern at the head of the coffin in which my friend’s body lay. The coffin rested on three chromed bars bridging the two metre drop of the grave.
At the conclusion of the service, I spoke the words of committal: “Forasmuch as it has pleased almighty God in his great mercy to take out of this world the soul of our dear brother … we therefore commit his body to the elements, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust …” As I spoke these words, the pallbearers lowered the coffin into the grave and out of sight.
After pronouncing the benediction, I lined up with the other mourners and took my turn to drop a handful of petals into the grave. I watched the petals tumble to the polished lid of the coffin, said goodbye, and turned away.
The funeral was a sobering affair and it set me thinking about a statement in one of the most sombre books of the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes. Inspired by God, the writer states: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting …”
This is a startling, if not a shocking, comment: it reverses our perceptions and contradicts our experience. Better a funeral than a feast? Why does the writer say that? What does he mean?
The writer himself provides the answer. “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,” he says, then adds, “for this is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to heart.”
The reason it is better to go to a funeral than to a party is because a funeral sets life in perspective. It reminds us of our mortality. It reminds us that we, too, are going to die, and so it encourages us to take stock of our lives and of our eternal destinies.
Each one of us will face death one day. How do we cope with—how do we make sense of—this fact?
The Christian faith offers hope in the face of death. The Bible teaches that death came into the world because of sin. The first created man and woman deliberately disobeyed God and their disobedience brought death into the human race. Indeed, sin and death have had a grip on us ever since. But God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to break that grip.
For love of us, the Lord Jesus willingly laid aside his privileges as the Son of God and came to earth as a human being to save us from sin, death and judgment. The Bible says that Jesus took on our humanity “so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one” (Hebrews 2:9). The reason he came to earth was to die, because it was only by dying for us that he could break the power of death over us. Jesus entered into death—and came through it! Death gains its power from sin, and because Jesus was without sin, death could not hold him. God the Father raised him up bodily from the grave.
And now the Lord Jesus offers the same resurrection, the same victory over death, to those who trust in him. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:2526).
The Lord Jesus knows that we live our lives in bondage to the fear of death. And he offers to break us free from that bondage, that fear. He died on the cross in our place, bearing the sins we committed and suffering the punishment we deserved. He did this for love of us. He did this to free us from our sins. He did this to free us from the fear and the power of death.
And Jesus requires us to do nothing in return, except to trust in him. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). “For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).
Thanks to Jesus, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). He is death’s mighty conqueror. Those who trust in him as their Saviour and yield to him as their Master need not fear death. They can be assured that he is the Good Shepherd who will comfort them in their dying, welcome them in eternity, defend them at the Judgment, and provide them a new resurrection body.
The benefit of a funeral is that it makes us take these things to heart. That is why “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting”.
© Andrew Lansdown