MARCH 2013 - WHY DO WE DO DEATH THE WAY WE DO?
Death often comes when we least expect it. Sometimes we know it is coming for a friend or family member. It is never easy to deal with. Death is a complicated and usually difficult reality to handle. But death is a part of life and inevitable for all of us until the Lord returns. It can be a celebration, unmeasured grief, a perplexing question, a devastating loss, or numbness. Occasionally, it can be all those things and more, at the same time. Perhaps, that is why death can be so difficult.
When you think about it, the unsettledness of death is understandable. Death isn’t natural! We weren’t made with death as part of our nature. But because of sin, we must face death. We live in a cursed world that has fallen from grace. Romans says it well. We have earned death because of our sin.
Sin is an ugly master. Though Christians have been pardoned, many of the effects of sin have remained. We all must die. So death has become part of the living process. Unavoidable. Certain. Unnatural.
Knowing death is inevitable for us all, we search for meaning and ways to deal with it. Cultures develop a wide variety of ways to help people through the moments. Theologies try to make some biblical sense to provide comfort and understanding. Some of them concoct elaborate doctrines that are not biblical.
In American culture, we have passed death traditions from generation to generation. Specifics change slightly as time passes, or for regional differences, but the basic elements of our funeral experiences in this culture are amazingly the same everywhere in the USA.
Why is that? There are no rules to say we must handle death a certain way. There are no laws about funerals. As a culture, we are free to do it anyway we wish.
We usually choose a very nice casket to hold the body. As the body of the loved one is held and cherished and loved in life, the body is held in a beautiful casket until the Lord comes.
Flowers are usually everywhere. People enjoy providing a panoply of God-grown cover for a difficult time. Flowers are a reminder of the beauty God has given us. Perhaps there is a connection with the idea the person who has died in Christ is blooming in a better place.
Visitation, or wake, hours are filled with people who want to “pay their respects” to the one who is gone. The purpose is likely greater than that as person after person passes the coffin and greets family members to express support, understanding, and a shared sense of loss and thankfulness for what the person meant in their life.
Now comes a decided difference: the funeral service. The atmosphere and content are quite different for Christians and non-Christians. No doubt about it. Christians die better. Grieving is tempered with hope. Many preachers will tell you that the difference also may be noticeable at the moment people die.
Funerals are for the living. Life is complete for those who have died, but life goes on for those who remain. We build funeral moments to help us understand, to grieve, to celebrate and to connect with God. At a service a few years ago, family members entered and left the service en masse. A great statement of standing together. One was carrying a baby. Wow! What a poignant moment. In death, life goes on. God is in control. Thank you God!
Usually there is a graveside service “to commit the body.” That is a tough one to understand. It is a tradition that can bring comfort to family and friends, but Christians know the person who was in the body is long gone. Burying the body as we do gives comfort to those who remain.
What does it mean?
So what does it all mean? The casket, the flowers, the time of comforting each other, the service, the burial and more. Do our attempts to get a handle on the dying process make a difference? The process we select helps us live with the realities when all of us are touched by death from time to time.
Perhaps, reflecting on these things in life can help us understand why we are here. Knowing our days are limited should help us use them wisely. Understanding that our personal eternity is directly affected by how we live is crucial to connecting with God, our Maker.
Every one of us can point to someone who has lived, died, and made a difference in our lives. We can celebrate and thank God for them. We are composites of them all. They are a reminder of how much we need each other.
The Great One
We can also reflect on a Great One who lived, died, and made a difference in our lives, Jesus Christ. He transforms when we let him. Someday, every man will look him in the eye and Christ will know if a person’s life was well spent for him. At that moment, we will know too.
May God give you hope in that moment. The outcome of the encounter is determined now. Unavoidable. Certain. Forever.