ONE BY ONE; DISTRACTIONS FADE FROM VIEWMay 3, 2010
Ecclesiastes 7:1-3 “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of ones death than the day of ones birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter. for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.”
A few weeks ago, while digging through the basement for something, (I can no longer remember what we were looking for) I came across a large batch of pictures taken at our wedding. They included pictures of the ceremony, posings with various family members and friends, and random shots of the ensuing reception. Nothing out of the ordinary, until I began to notice someting. I began to take note of how many people appearing in those pictures are no longer in the land of the living. It’s absolutely mind-blowing to consider how many of these people now have their dwelling in eternity. Their allotment of days expired and their fate sealed sometime between March 28, 1992 and the present. Many of them I never saw again following the wedding; such as my wifes aunt Ruth, who made our wedding cake. For others, the meetings over the years were very few and far between. Either way, it was an eye-opening moment as increased clarity was granted as to that which is truly important and that which loses all influence upon the moment of ones departure.
The above passage has intrigued me for a long time. To some it would almost sound like a contradictory statement. I mean, who enjoys going to a funeral? Everyone loves a wedding, but a funeral is a place of sorrow and loss. Memories of a person who was once an intregal piece of our life but is now gone on to their eternal reward. This sorrow is compounded if their eternal destiny is questionable. Then there’s the awkwardness of never knowing what to say to others. Seriously; some of the strangest sounding and most awkward statements that I’ve ever heard (including statements made by me) have been uttered at times when a loved one has departed. So why is the day of ones departure considered better than the day of ones arrival? I think it can be best explained in the comparison between a wedding and a funeral.
Every wedding that I’ve ever been to was a celebration. It is in accordance with scripture as folks leave their parents and cleave to each other and thoughts of the future are in the forefront. Ponderings of what lies ahead for the two who have become one, thoughts of a lifetime filled with accomplishments, anticipations of what their children will be like, and what have you. Without a doubt, these are positive things which all of us consider whenever the institution of mariage is being entered in to. And yet they all have one thing in common; that being a temporary nature. A marriage is only a marriage for as long as both parites are living. Death can come upon a person in an instant, but this is never thought about during such moments; except for when the words “until death do us part” are uttered. Even then, it’s likely that little thought is being given to the issue. (I confess that, during our wedding, death was not at all on my mind.) The thoughts of all are focused primarily upon the immediate future of the new Mr. and Mrs.
But a funeral bring reality front and center “for that is the end of all men.” Here is remembered, a person who was very much alive, but is now departed. For a short season they blazed a trail through the theater of atoms. They brought joy to their parents as they drew their first breath. They took their first steps, uttered their first words, they grew up, they fell in love, they laughed, they felt sorrow, they accumulated stuff, they forged out a legacy amongst their contemporaries. But now, all of that is irrelevant insofar as the now departed individual is concerned. Their demise is a harbinger to all who remain that “someday everyone takes this journey.” Regardless of accomplishments, notoriety, acquisitions, or the lack thereof, every life has a final moment. When that final moment approaches, the only thing that matters is whether or not that persons name appears in the book of life. As such, the words of Jesus in the following passage can never be over-emphasized:
Matthew 16:25-26 “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
This week finds our family in another season of sorrowful reflection. On the morning of May 2, 2010, my sister passed into eternity following a lengthy illness that initially wasn’t expected to end like this. For the past month, she was at a hospice facility in Kalamazoo, but was never alert enough to hold a conversation. To make this even stranger, her departure was at 11:00 am, while we were assembled with the church. It was during one of the most incredible worship services that I’ve ever experienced at this church, that, unbeknownst to us, my sister was slipping away. To add even more intrigue, our pastors message was about contentment; even when things go in an unexpected and even undesired direction. “Things can surprise us, but nothing surprises God. He saw it coming from afar off.”
As if all of this isn’t overwhelming enough, the serious part is that I don’t have unwavering confidence that my sister was saved. In fact, I’m reminded of the damage that I did as a new Christian; when my zeal far outweighed my wisdom. I unwittingly did much damage in those years as my sister maintained an “everyone has their own opinion” theology. Between my lack of wisdom and my other sister who is a Mormon necromancer, (she both sees, and talks to, dead people) the atmosphere was inundated with confusion. This confusion was undoubtedly amplified during my season of rebellion; when, for a few years, the things of this world became a priority. In subsequent years; even after the Lord restored me in the winter of 2004, it became impossible to talk to her in-depth about spiritual matters beyond the planting of seeds as there was a wall of resistance.
This situation is bringing with it; not only the truth that everyone leaves this world, it’s also a reminder to me of how dangerous it is to not walk in the Spirit continually. One thing that has been highlighted is the fact that we’re every bit as dependant upon the Lord Jesus today as we were in the hour that we first believed. Over the past month I’ve prayed much that the Lord would raise my sister from this bed. Last Thursday, she semed to be turning the corner as she had eaten for the first time in almost a week. I was careful to thank the Lord for sustaining her as he truly holds in his hand the breath of us all. Nobody leaves until he permits it. Sadly, in talking to others, I appear to be the only one who was looking for her to be revived. Others had seemingly accepted the doctors report as being the final authority. I’m sorrowful beyond words, but not shaken. Gods wisdom is far beyond ours and he alone determines the outcome of such matters.
I need to be closing, but one more observation is needful. It’s astonishiong at how much time we devote to matters that have no eternal significance. I once heard the statement, that “Nobody lays on their deathbed wishing that they had spent more time at the office.” In the closing moments, issues balance out and that which is irrelevant fades from view. This entire situation has been causing me to evaluate some priorities and strive, all the more, to let go of the sideshow issues which cause folks to lose sight of the eternal perspective.
Blessings always in Jesus name.