Friday, June 25, 2010

Some lessons from the House of Mourning

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 take it to heart.

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
(Ecclesiastes 7:2, 4)

My father-in-law passed into the presence of Christ in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Here are some reflections from the 'house of mourning'.

1) A death reminds us of the uncertainty of life. On hearing that my father-in-law, who was suffering from a brain tumour had taken a turn for the worst, our well laid plans for the next couple of weeks had to be changed. On Monday I had to take Sarah to London to be with her family rather than attend a Ministers' Fraternal. Arrangements had to be made for the children to go to friends of ours after school that day. The date of the funeral - next Tuesday clashed with a meeting at which I was due to speak, so the meeting had to be rearranged. All this is a reminder that life is uncertain and while it is right to plan ahead, our all our plans are subject to the providence of God. We are not in ultimate control of our lives. He is, James 4:13-15.

2) Death is not a friend, but the last enemy. Death can sometimes be sentimentalised, even by Christians. But death is a merciless foe rather than a kindly friend. Watching death prey on 'grandad' was witness enough to that sobering fact. Death robs a man of his life and loved ones of a dear relative or friend. It is the devil who has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). But death has been defeated by the death and resurrection of Christ. On his return Jesus will utterly destroy the last enemy and his people will be raised immortal (1 Corinthians 15:26, 53-55) .

3) A well lived life will be deeply mourned in death. It was a damning indictment on the wicked life of Jehoram, king of Judah that, "He was thirty-two years old when he became king. He reigned in Jerusalem eight years and, to no one’s sorrow, departed." (2 Chronicles 21:20). The dying may be well intentioned in saying to loved ones, "Do not stand at my grave and weep", but tears and sorrow are a natural response to the loss of a cherished family member. The greater the bonds of love in life the greater the sense of loss in death. Such is certainly the case with my father-in-law, a beloved husband, father and grandfather. The fact that he was a believer and is now with his Lord, free from pain and full of joy means that our sorrow is not without hope, but there is heartfelt sorrow and grief none the less, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.

4) The kindness of friends. Not only in expressions of condolences and the assurance of their prayers, but also the many offers of practical help. Thanks.

5) The excellence of palliative care. My wife's father was in some pain and discomfort in the hours before he died, but his Macmillan nurse and other carers did all they could to minimise his suffering, treating him with great compassion and respect. This strengthened my conviction that giving the dying effective palliative care is the best way to treat human beings with dignity in death rather than euthanasia.

6) Reflecting on the inevitability of death and the brevity of life, Moses prayed, "So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12). Death puts things into perspective. Suddenly England's progress in the World Cup wasn't quite so important. Tuesday's Emergency Budget seemed to pale into insignificance in the light of eternity. "The things which are seen are temporary, but the things that are not seen are eternal."  (2 Corinthians 4:18). We only have one life to live and we will only live well if our main aim is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever. Be wise. Don't waste your life.

7) The power of the Christian hope, wonderfully expressed in the words of the Westminster Larger Catechism:

Question 86: What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death ?

Answer: The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death, is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, which even in death continue united to Christ, and rest in their graves as in their beds, till at the last day they be again united to their souls. Whereas the souls of the wicked are at their death cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, and their bodies kept in their graves, as in their prisons, till the resurrection and judgment of the great day.


MFH said...

i don't know you but Thank you for this post

he has redeemed our souls from the power of the grave ps 49;15

Every sympathy with you and yours

Pamela said...

I am sorry for your loss. Thanks for the post.

Andrew said...

Thanks for this very touching and personal post, Guy, and please be assured of my prayers at this difficult time. Thank you for the depth and reality of your reflections, and your refusal to sentimentalise the last enemy.

My Dad died just less than six years ago and your thoughts here resonate deeply with me.