I think I've stumbled onto something profound (and yes, a little disturbing). I think that everyone should try to attend at least one funeral each and every week. I know, I'm a freak, right? Just hear me out...
This morning I went to the funeral of a man who's adult daughter attends our church. I did not go because I knew the man but because I know and love his daughter, Jackie, and her husband. In fact, I had never met the man. But, after today, I have been deeply affected by this man's life and legacy. Today I was moved to tears by the stories about this man as told by his family and friends. A man I had never met in life touched me even while his physical body lay in a casket. That's pretty strange, right?
As a pastor, I am around death, suffering, and "the effects of sin" perhaps more often than most other people. I am still not quite comfortable with death. There is something inherently unsettling about it's inevitability and finality. But, my perspective on death, and my understanding of all the emotions and needs of people while death is passing by, has changed dramatically. Don't misunderstand me; I'm not some sick-o guy with a demented affinity for death. I guess I am just coming to view death less and less out of a perspective of fear and more from a perspective which sees it in the context of God's grand story.
I'm becoming more acutely aware that something profound happens to me at funerals. Whether it is the funeral of a beloved and godly person, like the man whose funeral I attended today, or that of a person who never made time for God in life, I think there is something good, healthy, and necessary that happens to us when we are forced to look death in the face. In other words, I think God uses death for those of us left behind to help us move forward in a way that better pleases Him. I think that we tend to quickly forget what matters most in life, and "death" is a not-so-subtle-but-altogether-effective reminder of what really counts.
Here are a few reasons why I think everyone should attend at least one funeral a week:
1) Because at funerals we are reminded of our frailty and of the preciousness of life. I'd suspect that the thought runs through most people's mind at some point during a funeral that one day they'll be the one laying in the casket. "Life is a vapor", James says (4:14). We are reminded of our own mortality when we are forced to look upon the face of a deceased loved one. Funerals remind us that life is still a place of brokenness. We are forced to admit that things change, people leave, and pain is an inevitable part of life in the here-and-now.
2) Because at funerals we are reminded of just how precious and important family is to us. At every funeral I attend my thoughts somehow begin to drift from what I'm hearing about the "dearly departed" to what my loved ones and friends might have to say about me. I am forced to face the condition of my life and to evaluate honestly and inwardly how I am living my life. Funerals remind us that one day we will be gone and the people we love will be the most important things we leave behind. Not our work, not our money, and not even our reputation; no, it will be our children and grandchildren, friends and others who have been influenced by us which are the most valuable of things we can't bring to heaven with us. Today, while sitting through this funeral, I experienced a renewed passion to be the kind of husband and father that I know God wants me to be. We are making an impact--either for the "better" or for the "worse"--on the people we love every day.
3) Because at funerals we are reminded of just how amazing God's grace is. I used to be uncomfortable when I heard people go on and on about "how great" so and so was during their lifetime. But now I realize, if the deceased person loved Jesus Christ and was living from a God-centered orientation, then the "goodness" that we speak of in a person at their funeral is nothing else than the graciousness of God being lived out through the power of the Holy Spirit in their life. Jackie's father was a man of tremendous faith and today I learned that he was an awesome husband, father, and church leader because he was yielded to God's life. It was really his faith in Christ that shaped him and enabled him to be the noble man that many said goodbye to today. God did not bring death, we did. We (humanity) rebelled and sinned. God is the author of life and even in death He brings the hope of resurrection out of the ashes of suffering.
So, that's why I think it would be profitable for all of us to spend a little more time in the "house of mourning" than in the "house of laughter". I doubt that anyone (including myself) will take my advice, but maybe it at least gets you thinking.