On Sunday evenings at Diss Baptist Church they have been working their way through Ecclesiastes. The Sunday before the funeral the text was Ecclesiastes 7:2a “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.” Probably not a text our family would have chosen this week! I don’t know how the Pastor dealt with that text (I was at home with a migraine, so I didn’t hear him) but it is really a great text for such a time as this.
The photo is of the house Priscilla’s mother has lived in for the last 14 years. It has been a very happy house for us. Staying here for a couple of weeks following Mother's death has obviously been sad at times but the place is also full of memories of Mother in happy times and in happy places. It's address in "Scrumpy Way" fits well a house in which we have spent many happy days with Priscilla's mother. I've especially enjoyed doing the gardening for Mother - one of the neighbours asked last year (after several recent visits) if I was the going to make an annual gardening trip from New Zealand. There’s nothing in its appearance that has changed it into a “house of mourning”! It was and is a rather nice house. It’s a combination of the person who isn’t there any longer and the people who are there but are missing her that makes it a House of Mourning.
Why is it good for us to be here rather than at a feast? First off, note that the writer is not saying feasting is wrong. He’s already said, “There is a time for everything … a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4). I guess dancing is not quite the same as feasting, but the idea is clear: the caricature of the Puritans as constantly mournful and clothed in black is not what he has in mind (nor, by the way, what the Puritans were truly like).
So why is it good for us to be here rather than at a feast? Not surprisingly, he tells us: “Death is the destiny of everyone; and the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2b) Death confronts us, not only with its mystery but also with its certainty. God says that at a time like this we need to take to heart the certainty of our own death.
The reality is that “people are destined to die once, and after that face judgement.” (Hebrews 9:27) “We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:10) We so easily focus on our sense of loss when confronted with death, especially with the death of someone close. But the writer of Ecclesiastes says that when confronted with death we should be focusing on the certainty of what we will lose, not what we have lost. At death, we lose life and gain either God’s wrath or God’s eternal life. Without Christ, we lose life and in judgement gain the wrath of God eternally. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them.” (John 3:36) “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11)
It is good to visit the house of mourning if we do it with eyes open to the reality of our coming death, our coming judgement, and our only hope for life now and eternally: Jesus.