It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart (Ecclesiastes 7:2)
One morning over coffee, my friend Robert, a retired pastor in one of the Protestant denominations, told me he preferred to officiate at funerals rather than weddings. “Weddings,” he said, “are all about the bride – how pretty she looks, and now nice a couple she and her husband make.” At funerals, however, it’s all about the family left behind. At funerals, he had the pastoral privilege to put his arm around a father’s shoulder at the coffin of his child, or hold a widow’s hand, or sit quietly with mourners and simply ‘be there’ for them.
I understood the reason for his preference. I have attended joyous weddings, and I have sat in too many funeral homes and beside too many hospital deathbeds as family gathered to say their last goodbyes.
I know what it is like to be in the presence of death.
At sixty-seven, my thoughts turn far more frequently to death than they ever did when I was thirty. (Thirty. It seems like only three weeks ago I was thirty). Please do not misunderstand my comment. I do not think of my eventual death in a morbid, gloomy way, but rather with a ‘matter of fact’ acceptance. Death is, after all, the destiny awaiting each of us – some sooner, some later, whether rich or poor, popular or unknown, powerful or weak, intelligent or slow, handsome or unattractive . . . .
That is why toward the end of his life, Solomon said what he did about houses of feasting and houses of mourning. He discovered – as most of us who are older discover – that when we are young we don’t think much of our own mortality or of the relentless and unyielding passage of years. There is too much living to do, too many parties to attend.
But when we find ourselves in a funeral home or at the deathbed of someone we love – then the realities of life offer us the chance to “take things to heart.” It is during those times that popularity and wealth, fame and position, and all the things so many of us strive for – it is there that those things often fall into proper perspective.
Perhaps one of the more well-known stories Jesus told is of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). If it has been a while since you’ve read it, I hope today you will take a few moments today to do so.
From the perspective of those who knew him, the Rich Man had everything a person could hope for. But from God’s perspective – he was poor and naked and miserable and blind. Truth be told, the Rich Man had nothing. Even less than nothing.
Like so many we meet every day, the rich guy missed a critically essential element of life’s meaning. Jesus warned about it when He said: For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26)
The Lord always asked good questions. What you and I need are the right answers – because a house of mourning is in the future for every one of us.
That is why Solomon closed his book of Ecclesiastes this way: The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
The year 2017 is over. Past. Gone.
But today -- whatever is the date on the calendar when you read this -- today, before it slips into tomorrow, today you have a new opportunity to tell God you want your life to count for something better. Tell Him you want to more obediently hold onto the hand of His Son, Jesus. And for the first time, or the hundredth time – invite the Holy Spirit to live out His life of holiness within you.
Don’t miss the critically essential element of life’s meaning in 2018.