Today I attended the funeral of a dear friend’s mother. This post—and the event itself—seems quite out of season: we just celebrated the birth of Christ, and two days later I find myself, along with many others, mourning the death of a faithful woman taken all too soon from her family.
Funerals are awkward gatherings, full of timid reunions and casual hellos as attendees search for conversation that falls between furthering pain and introducing triviality; for a Christian funeral, there also seems to be a constant, unwieldy tug-of-war between sorrow and hope. In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher goes so far as to claim “It is better to go to a house of mourning / than to go to a house of feasting, / for death is the destiny of everyone; / the living should take this to heart.” As the Preacher suggests, funerals remind us of our mortality and the brevity of life, a mememto mori in action. But the mourning reminds us of something else, too: the tension between what is and what should be.
It is most unnatural for us humans to die—despite popular belief—because we were created to live forever in relationship with God. When the first humans met sin, and sin introduced death, it was not the natural way of life given to us by the Creator. Thankfully, Christ restored our relationship with the Father through his sacrifice, but we’re still living in the consequences of sin. It is the reality of our world that death takes away those closest to us, but it is not the intended reality.
Though we celebrated a well-lived life today, and the culmination of her relationship with Christ as she joins the heavenly feast, we also mourned her loss, and the presence of death itself in the world. And that is why it is entirely appropriate for funerals to be a place of mourning, a time that feels surreal and awkward and unnatural and out-of-season. Funerals were not intended to exist. They are a reminder of the human condition of fallenness as we wait for Him to come again.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus.