Begin with end in mind; then begin to live
Every church needs a funeral director. When I was a teenager, we helped a small church in a small Texas town conduct a summer Vacation Bible School. One of the members of the church was a funeral director. He told us he was the last person who would ever let you down. Then he just gave us a creepy grin.
The mere mention of his occupation can make some react more nervously than when people find out the person they’re stuck with on a plane is a minister. It’s not that funeral directors aren’t likeable people. It’s just that they are not exactly the ones you want to see walking into your hospital room.
The funeral director’s role reminds people that there is more to life than what we often acknowledge. His mere presence can make people uncomfortable. Many people do not have the habit of attending funerals or visiting graveyards. In the past, however, it wasn’t this way. If you wanted to see a graveyard, you wouldn’t go to a “memorial park” located somewhere away from daily living. Instead, you’d go to church. In the past, graveyards were created right around the church. It was a sobering reminder that what was talked about inside the church had a direct bearing on where you’d be someday outside the church. Cemeteries were holy ground.
We avoid graveyards and death in subtler ways than physically avoiding them. We make jokes about them. “Every day above ground is a good day.” “I hate going to funerals because I’m not a mourning person.”
Or we avoid them by trying to stay young. We work out. We lose weight. We eat healthy. We liposuction here and facelift there.
We even seek thrills to avoid death. We cram our schedules so full that we don’t have time to think about death. We don’t have time to visit the place we’ll be someday because we don’t want to think much about this day.
But that’s not the way it used to be. The old church graveyard was a consistently “in your face” place. Life and death were constantly juxtaposed so that they could not easily be avoided. An ancient preacher had a great visual just outside the window. Let’s look there for a moment.
One of those preachers was Qoheleth. You may not know his name, but you know his book. Ecclesiastes. He said, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting; For this is the end of everyone, and the living will lay it to heart.” So much for your prosperity gospel.
Qoheleth opens the window to life by pointing to death. He tells us that it is a good thing to spend some time around funerals and graveyards. Funerals remind all of us that we will one day be the person in the casket. We’ll be making our final move.
The preacher says to take this to heart and live accordingly. And how is that? Well, the Bible is not made to give us a bunch of rules to follow. It is there to grow us up to become people of wisdom. And the wisdom he gives us is this: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.”
Begin with the end in mind. Then begin to live.