Several of my close friends have been touched by death in recent weeks. No, I’m not going to wax lyrical or sentimental about the brevity of life and all that. Rather, I want to touch on something that deeply concerns me about funerals these days, and which one of my aforementioned friends also commented on.
“We’re not here to mourn his death, but to celebrate his life.” In about the last thirty years, that has gone from being a rather daring, radical statement to being the conventional sentiment of funerals. Even Christians have an adaptation of a Jewish proverb to trot out – “Grieve not that he is gone, but rather give thanks that he ever was.”
It all sounds so pious, so positive, so awfully nice. But it is deeply and dangerously wrong. We ought to grieve and mourn at the death of everyone we love – not only because we have a psychological need to grieve, but because death is something out of place. Christians at least should know this: we know that Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus even though he was about to raise him from the dead, and we know that mourning and lamentation for the dead is a biblical norm, even though we do not grieve “as others who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). Death was not part of God’s original good creation; it is a hideous enemy that has entered the world through Adam’s sin.
If we refuse to grieve, we not only hurt ourselves, we deny the truth. We make life out to be a brief whirl which everyone gets a go at, then the carnival is over and that’s all, folks. Life has its advantages but it gets a bit much after a while and death is just as good.
We need to ask ourselves what we’re really saying when we embrace this mindset. Try this question: If death is not a problem, if we should just celebrate what the dear departed put into and got out of life, then what is wrong with abortion, infanticide or euthanasia? Can’t we “celebrate the life” of someone who has been legally murdered, just as we would “celebrate the life” of someone who fell over a cliff?
I think we need to remember that all of life is education, that we speak to ourselves and to others in everything we do. When we bury the dead, we need to talk about the magnificent and sacred gift of life that our Creator has given to us, and face the hideous reality of death, which throws in our faces the hideous reality of sin against a holy God. For ourselves and for the sake of the truth, we need to grieve, mourn, wail and lament. And then look forward to the better day that is coming, when death and mourning will be no more.