Bob & Rosalie Thomasmeyer.
The aforementioned share one thing in common in the past few days. They have all passed from this life into eternity.
My cousin Rosalie and her husband Bob died within three days of each other. My preaching colleagues, Gerry, Ken, and Gene, all battled various forms of cancer. A college classmate, Bart, passed from a heart attack. My Canadian friend and brother suddenly died at age 48 after he and his family moved to Fort Payne, Alabama. And last Thursday we attended the military service of our long-time friend, Bill Hood, who died from the ravages of cancer at age 78.
Furthermore, consider those who perished in the recent tornadoes, devasting little Mayfield, Kentucky, and also impacting nearby cities and states.
This season of the year from Thanksgiving to Christmas is supposed to be an occasion of feasting, fun, and festivities. A time of enjoyment with our family and friends. A season of peace, joy, and goodwill toward men.
Yet, death doesn’t take a holiday vacation. It’s almost as if death mocks us for seeking a period of merriment and says, “Take that.”
At my friend, Bill’s service, a mutual friend and fellow preacher, David McClister read from 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 every man;
the living should take this to heart.
I have previously used that text in funeral services. I have preached on it. I am familiar with it. I understand it intellectually. And theologically. Yet, emotionally, I will freely admit, it’s tough. From a purely physical and fleshly standpoint, I would prefer to be at a holiday party together. Enjoying a delicious meal. Engaging in pleasant conversation. Laughing. And sharing a funny story with my family and friends.
Instead, some find themselves in a house of mourning. Many unexpectedly. We wonder, “Why?” And we ponder, “how can this be better?”
At Bill’s service, David reminded us that “our hope of heaven is so pervasive that it relativizes and tempers every other experience we have in this world, and, if we let it, it subsumes them all.” David then added this compelling thought.”
“Everything else in this world pales in significance to the attaining of our place in the world to come, and eventually everything else in this world is to be pressed into the service of attaining our place there. Additionally, our hope gives us a perspective that sets all other things in their proper place, a perspective only by which we can see clearly in this world, to distinguish the important from the unimportant, the temporal from the eternal.”
Indeed, the sting of death is softened, as David shared “by the fact that Christians have something that is theirs uniquely, and that is the hope of a life with God and Christ in that beautiful place that God has prepared for his people. Our hope of heaven is so strong, and so powerful, that it empowers us to endure the difficulties of following Christ.”
Our passage says, “the living should take it to heart.” What?
Death is the destiny of us all. Indeed, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). We can’t run away and hide from death. Not our family. Or friends. Or you. Or I.
Think about it. Death is no respecter of persons. It affects young and old. Rich and poor. Educated and uneducated. Heart doctors sometimes die of heart attacks. Cancer doctors die of cancer. Funeral directors die. EMS workers die. And preachers who preach about dying also eventually succumb to death.
The “house of mourning” forces us to “take to heart” the issues of life. Our spiritual condition. Our relationship with God. Our eternal destiny. Our bodily resurrection. And our hope of heaven.
We are reminded that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). So, even when death makes a rude and unwelcome instruction into our lives at a time when we feel we ought to be feasting, we can echo these words of hope through our tear-filled eyes…
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
Ken Weliever, The Preacherman