The Joy of Mourning
During this past week, members at Southside were gathered together for two very different occasions. One was a social picnic – an opportunity to enjoy good food and good company. The other was a funeral – the mourning of the passing of a brother and friend. Which one would you like to revisit again next week?
Ecclesiastes 7:2 (ESV) - It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
In the context of the events of the past week, this verse is extremely difficult to process. Sign me up for more hamburgers and horseshoes, but I would prefer to avoid the funeral home for a bit. Yet Solomon – who surely knew his way around a good feast in his day – instructs us that the house of mourning is preferable. How could this possibly be accurate? A few thoughts to consider:
The feast provides physical and social fulfillment. This is not an evil thing, and the opportunity to share this time with brethren is valuable and needed. The same Solomon wrote that “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25) How beneficial it is for us to be able to share this type of experience with our Christian family! What the house of mourning has to offer must be of some consequence if it is more valuable than this!
The house of mourning provides spiritual reflection. I cannot say for certain how many picnic attendees were considering their eternal destiny. Perhaps there were conversations that led some minds to eternal thoughts. But it is safe to say that most all who entered the house of mourning were compelled to consider their own lives and deaths. As Solomon stated, “this is the end of all mankind,” and being in that environment brings that thought into sharp focus. It is possible for social events and cheerful gatherings to distract our attention from our spiritual state. Funerals provide exactly the opposite. The house of mourning allows no escape from the certainty of mortality and the weight of eternity. This spiritual reflection is critically important, as it often forces us to honestly evaluate our spiritual destiny. The reality we face is that we are all one heartbeat away from eternity – and our comfort with that reality speaks volumes.
The house of mourning is a chance for Christian lights to shine. Because of the points noted above, tremendous opportunities exist for those disciples courageous and loving enough to take advantage of them. There are unbelieving hearts in the house of mourning that are softened by the realities of death and eternity. What words of guidance and encouragement can we provide? How can we reinforce the need for Jesus in ways that are “gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6)? How can our confident belief in heaven inspire the doubting? There are hearts that are hurting because of the loss they have experienced. What are we going to provide them? How can our presence and prayers be the comfort they need? It is not devious or opportunistic to utilize these opportunities. Solomon indicates that “the living will lay it to heart.” Perhaps we are the tool that God wishes to use in that effort.
God can turn mourning to joy. This is the great reminder for followers of God. If there is nothing beyond this earthly life, then the house of mourning is unbearable. As Paul put it, if we “have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (I Corinthians 15:19). But, if we believe in the fact of eternity, we must respond differently. There is certainly sorrow when we are separated from someone we love, but Paul again reminds us that we should not “grieve as others do who have no hope.” (I Thessalonians 4:13). There should rightly be a different tone in the grieving of a Christian for a fellow brother/sister. Faith in God is the difference. Our God has a history of turning mourning into joy. Note:
- Psalm 30:11 – You have turned my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.
- Isaiah 61:1-3 – The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted… to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning.
- Jeremiah 31:13 – For I will turn their mourning into joy; And I will comfort them and give them joy for their sorrow.
- John 16:20 - …you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
This is not the fading of sorrow due to the passing of time; this is the dramatic victory of joy over sorrow through the power of God. Through faith, we can joyfully expect to see our brothers again, in a place where funeral homes and cemeteries do not exist. And more importantly, to spend eternity with the God that provides both feasting and mourning. As with so many areas of life, the Christian perspective is in stark contrast to the conventional wisdom of the world. Let us thank God for the blessing of the house of mourning. It makes us reflect, it makes us hopeful, and that makes us distinct.