Wall Street Journal that I finally happened to read. It is a good read. The topic is the funeral for Margaret Thatcher but the wisdom is more generic. Let me post one paragraph:
Thatcher’s funeral was striking in that it was not, actually, about her.
It was about what she thought it important for the mourners to know.
The readings were about the fact of God, the gift of Christ, and the
necessity of loving your country and working for its betterment. There
were no long eulogies. In a friendly and relatively brief address, the
bishop of London lauded her kindness and character. No funeral of an
American leader would ever be like that: The dead American would be the
star, with God in the position of yet another mourner who’d miss his
leadership. [emphasis mine]
Her point is true not merely of the large funerals of national leaders or political figures but of the way we view funerals in general today. God is in the position of yet another mourner who would miss him/her. Now there is a mouthful. Yet, this is exactly what even Christian funerals have become -- celebrations of the life of the deceased with our only comfort being our memory of the dead. How sad. But what an apt description of the role we have assigned to God. Just another mourner. Not even the mourner in chief.
The Psalmist reminds us that precious in the Lord's sight is the death of His saints. Precious here does not mean quaint or even sentimental. What is precious to the Lord, the Lord acts upon. Our death is so precious that He sent His one and only Son to live life under the burden and constraint of this mortal life. Though He was without sin, He was not immune to suffering, to pain, to grief, and to death. It was for this that Jesus became incarnate. To carry the burden of our death! And this is our comfort. The memory is nice but the promise of our own joyful resurrection to eternal life with those whom we love who have departed in the Lord is better. God does not grieve with us or even for us. God's grief is expressed primarily in answering the bondage of death with the gift of life in Christ. This is what we hear so seldom at funerals -- the comfort of the cross and the promise of Easter.
You can celebrate the life of and enjoy the memories of the dead and it makes little difference to the gaping hole in our hearts. If for this life only we have hope, we are of all people the most to be pitied. But that is exactly what Christians have allowed the funeral to become -- a party of remembrance instead of a community of hope. Melancholy is not hope. Looking back upon the life and accomplishments of the dead is not hope. The remembrance of joyful and even hurtful memories is not hope. We are there as Christian ministers not to offer therapy, not to dismiss the wounds of the grieving, nor to point them to the life and works of the dead. We are there to connect THIS death with Christ's death for the life of the world. We are there to connect THIS life to the promise of Christ's life, in which death was refused the final word.
Once we remember this, much of the silliness that takes the place of honest funerals will disappear and the real ministration of the Gospel will take its rightful place as the arena in which we discover what it means for the death of the saints to be precious to the Lord. So precious that He sent His Son to die that we might live through Him.