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Feb 7, 2011

House of Mourning Better Than House of Feasting

In our small group we are studying Ecclesiastes, a book packed full of wisdom relevant to our daily lives, even in this generation. We recently read an interesting passage which has caused me to reflect.
"The house of mourning is better than the house of feasting." – Ecclesiastes 7:2
The idea, as we discussed this, is that times of mourning and sadness are more valuable than times of feasting or celebration because they cause us to reflect on what’s really important in life. Think about the wisdom there. We all love celebrations, whether birthday parties, graduations, holidays, or family reunions. These are enjoyable times where we relax, feast, celebrate accomplishments, and sometimes even give thanks. But there are other times in our lives without joy or gladness, like funerals, hospital visits, layoffs, and separations. The author of Ecclesiastes suggests that the latter events are somehow “better.” If we consider this, I think we’ll agree with God’s perspective here.

When I was in high school, one of my teammates was killed by a drunk driver. He was hit in a crosswalk on his way to the mall on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. But on the two days before that, we had all been together at a regional water polo tournament. Although our team wasn’t typically very good, on this weekend we rallied together and won the whole tournament. We celebrated this rare victory together on Saturday. On Monday morning, I expected to come to school, riding the high of our accomplishment, eager to have the good news announced in every classroom on the PA system. Instead, when I showed up in the weight room before school on Monday morning, I saw every head drooped low as the team sat in stunned silence. We learned that our 15-year old friend had been killed the day before, less than 24 hours since we had last seen him celebrating our big win.

A few days later, our whole team attended his funeral and one by one, hugged his mom and shook his dad’s hand after the service. I think everyone of us reflected on our lives at that point and the elation of our tournament victory suddenly seemed insignificant. I know I valued my life a little more after that. I better appreciated my parents’ love for me after seeing the grief on the faces of my friend’s mom and dad. And after that, I think I appreciated all the happy times in my life a little more, never knowing if they would be the last time I could share a celebration with someone close to me.

When we face sickness or death, we better appreciate the gift of our own lives. We face our mortality in these moments, but hopefully also consider what’s important in our lives and sometimes even make changes as a result. That may be why times of mourning can be considered better.

The last funeral I attended was for my father-in-law. As many funerals are, it was both a time of celebration and of mourning. His life was celebrated by those who loved him, including my wife and step-daughter who gave a moving speech about their wonderful memories with him.

I also sat next to my youngest son who was with us that day. In the middle of the service I noticed my son crying. I asked him what was wrong, only because he hadn’t had a chance to know my wife’s father very well and I was a little surprised at his emotions. He told me he was crying because he was picturing me “up there” in the casket and was scared of losing his dad too. I put my arm around him and reassured him again that I loved him and that I wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Today, I wish my son would remember that honest moment of love and emotion he felt in the “house of mourning”. Through the emotional consideration which comes at a funeral, he felt the love he had for his own father and was overwhelmed. I hope that my promise to him will come true, that I will be around for a while, giving us time to reconcile and restore our relationship. But there are no guarantees with our lives. We all need to appreciate the days we are given, value the relationships and time we share with each other, and resolve to forgive and love one another now while we still have the chance.

Most of all, for anyone who doesn’t know Christ as their personal savior, facing sickness and death should awaken them to their own mortality and their spiritual condition as a helpless sinner facing a holy God. Coming to grips with this reality should drive us to our knees to beg forgiveness. We are all like the thief on the cross, facing certain death but with salvation waiting right next to us.

Yes, the “house of mourning” is better, but only when we reflect and learn from the wisdom that we should find there. Thank God today, not just for times of celebration, but of mourning as well. Consider what you should learn from them so that your life will be better.

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