I went to a funeral yesterday. These can be sad events, particularly when you are a close friend or family member and you feel the death has been an untimely one. I don't want to minimise the grief at a funeral in this posting. But in the last six months I have been to three funerals where something else happens. I find that I walk away with my life renewed with hope and a kind of destiny. These three funerals celebrated the lives of saints who lived their lives fully for Jesus.
As I drove home, I asked myself what it is in a funeral that finds me responding like this. Here is what I have come up with so far...
(a) Ecclesiastes 7:2 is right - "It IS better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting" - because a funeral makes me pause and think about life, while a party makes me rush and forget about life. A funeral works for me like a spiritual retreat does for others. I find I recalibrate my life at the funeral of a saint.
(b) The eyes well-up and overflow at funerals - repeatedly. My heart gets so soft. I love it! Soft hearts are good hearts. They can be remoulded. It is the hard, stony heart - the one that remains unmoved at the funeral of a saint - where the real sadness lies. So yes - I have in mind a grandchild giving a tribute OR the spouse anticipating loneliness ... but I also find myself softened by words which describe the person's enduring commitment to Jesus through the obstacles that life brings. It makes me more determined to follow their example. So I guess it softens my heart and steels my mind at the same time.
(c) I love 'eulogies' - those 'good words' about the person. I love hearing about what made a person tick. Their priorities? Their loves? Their joys? Their dreams? Their struggles? Their idiosyncracies? It may sound a bit self-absorbed, but I do find that I encourage younger people to live their lives with the eulogy at their own funeral in mind. Make it their objective to live such a godly life that there is too much to say at the funeral. I say this to myself as well...
(d) I love the hymns that get sung at funerals. They contain a theology that we do not tend to sing about today ... and as we tend to get our theology from what we sing, they reflect themes that are missing in the life of the church today. Hope? Suffering? Second Coming? Shall I go on....???? Our singing today tends to be so escapist and so full of over-hyped statements of our committment to God. There is a brand of hymns - often those sung at funerals of saints - that are so engaged and so full of God's commitment to us. Yesterday it was "It is well with my soul". I consider it a scandal that we do not sing more of these hymns in the church today. We are such chronological snobs - so besotted with the contemporary and the new. (I feel another blog posting coming on with this one...)
Yes, I believe in a funeral spirituality. I believe in taking every opportunity to attend the funeral of a saint, opening up my life to their life and allowing God to speak to me.
For the record I'd like to thank the families of Jack (JP) Turner (whose funeral was on his 90th birthday!); May Conway; and then just yesterday, Doug Hewlett (whose funeral was on his 66th birthday!). Their lives have impacted me for good and for God.