This article was originally published by The Mennonite

The beauty of funerals

Grace and Truth: A word from pastors

One question I always hear people pondering is, Why do we only come together when someone dies?

I have often wondered this myself, because it is during funeral gatherings that I hear the best stories of family life, the roar of laughter long overdue and the promises to stay in touch. Family and friends travel from far and wide to show respect and their love for the deceased as well as the grieving family
I have often wondered this myself, because it is during funeral gatherings that I hear the best stories of family life, the roar of laughter long overdue and the promises to stay in touch. Family and friends travel from far and wide to show respect and their love for the deceased as well as the grieving family

As pastor I have to admit the best part of my job is funerals. You get to see people at their best and worse. You get to see them for who they really are. You find out more in a couple of days about a family and how they take care of one another (or not). I often say to people, “Your funeral will speak more about your life than your life ever did.”

See, once we leave this place, the true essence of our being is released into the atmosphere and it cannot be hidden or covered any longer.

Even if one person tries to keep your secrets, someone else will let the secrets out, for their own personal release. Death is not a bad thing. It gives us permission to “let go.”

That release, that “letting go,” frees the person who is dying but also those around them. So once we let go, we are free to share our loved one and ourselves openly.

Funerals have some of the best family stories. Funny, gut-busting laughter can be heard throughout the days leading up to and shortly after the funeral. Tears provide comfort from friends and family who have not been able to show their affection. A high school friend, travels from another state, simply to give you a hug and let you know you are in their thoughts. Fear is often suppressed by the presence and promises of family and friends. A son reminds his mother that he will check in more often now that dad has passed on.

Funerals may seem like an unlikely place to see the joy and love of family, but surprisingly, that is where it often shows itself the most. Funerals show the loved ones left behind that others care. Funerals remind us that there are more important things than jobs, hobbies and even routine schedules. Funerals reveal to us that God is ultimately in control, and we need to pause and respect his work.

Jesus was called to the bedside of a dying little girl. All the people had gathered. They were wailing and praying in the house. When Jesus arrived, he asked them to go outside, and he went into the room with the child. Jesus told them she was not dead but only sleeping.

When we gather together to mourn a loved one, we often speak about that person’s life and how they affected our lives. We must remember that our loved ones who have passed away are also being raised into a new life with Christ Jesus. Our sorrows are an important part of our life journey.

Our sorrows are preparation for our letting go.

King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:1-3 put it this way:

“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death, than the day of birth.

“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.

“Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.”

Why do we only come together when someone dies? Because it may be the only time we can stop our busy lives and reflect on the people and things that really matter. Death gives us permission to examine our lives and change course, if that is what is needed.

When you go to the next funeral of a friend or loved one, pause and really look around at what is going on with the people. Encourage stories of joy and love into that space. Celebrate the honor of sharing in that life.

Cyneatha Millsaps is pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Ill.

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