All things earthly speak of decay and dissolution. Ever since the heavyhearted sorrow of God made the awful pronouncement upon Adam and Eve on the occasion of their banishment from the sweet waters of Eden: "Dying thou shall die" (margin), this sin-cursed abode of man has been a house of mourning, a place of tears, a blighted garden of grief and fading dreams.
But in the midst of sorrow there is a gleam of hope. Through the prism of tears we see God's rainbow of promise. Surrounded by the darkness of the tomb, we behold Him who dwells in light unapproachable.
There are three fruitful lessons I see in the Scriptures I have read:
"The grass withereth." Here is suggested the frailty of man and the brevity of human life.
"As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth." Here is a beautiful analogy of the nobility of a good life lived before men.
"But the word of our God shall stand for ever." Here is permanency and assurance in a world that sees only change and decay.
Surely it must have been by design that our merciful Father, who pities us as His own children, put these texts in close juxtaposition for such a time as this.
"It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting. . . . Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better."
God has a purpose, then, in human grief and earthly sorrow. I wonder whether we can learn some of its lessons today. We are so slow to learn the meaning of the secrets of God's guiding hand. And it is--
"Not until the loom is silent, And the shuttles cease to fly, That God unrolls the pattern And explains the reason why The dark threads are as needful In the Weaver's skillful hand As the threads of gold and silver For the pattern which He planned.
"How tragic is the fall of man as we look about us and see the marks of the burden of sin in the whitening hair and the seamed face and the feeble steps of age, and in the mute testimony of the memorial tombs of countless cities of the dead!
The seeds that mildew in the prolonged dews of spring, the blight that destroys the hope of the summer harvest, the late pests that attack the full corn in the ear and bring dismay at the time of ingathering all these are reminders of the curse that sin brought to this world to increase its human woe.
And yet, "the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning," says the wise man, for it is in the house of mourning we feel our dependency upon Him who declared: "All flesh is grass." "For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more."
There is a ministry of sorrow that leads us to feel our common heritage as members of God's family. Have we not all sinned and come short of the glory of God? In the house of weeping we recognize the truth of our beloved Long fellow:
"Art is long, and Time is fleeting, And our hearts, though stout and brave, Still like muffled drums are beating Funeral marches to the grave."
But thank God, He does not leave us there. "I will come again," said Jesus, "and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." John 14:3.
The backward look at the loss of our Eden home and the consequent misery that has fallen upon men down to the present hour is not sufficient. In the midst of crumbling kingdoms and frustrated human plans and social confusion how comforting are the promises of God! The beauty and bloom of Eden will be restored in an earth where sickness and human woe will be no more. Paralysis and wasting will not be known. "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." Rev. 22:12.
Blessed promise! Speed on, O day eternal!
TAYLOR G. BUNCH, Pastor, Sligo Church, Potomac Conference
It is but natural that we make every possible effort to live as long as we can, and put off our funerals as long as possible. But as sobering, unpleasant, and unwelcome as they are, funerals cannot always be postponed. We cannot escape or ignore them. Even the most godly saints, who have been divinely promised immunity from the second death, must meet their appointment with the first death that comes to all alike as the result of the racial sin of the first Adam.
The gospel, however, destroys the fear of death, for the blessed hope makes its dark valley a mere "shadow" in comparison with the eternal death to be visited upon the wicked. There is no real danger in a shadow, although it may cause fright because it gives evidence of a sub stance that is dangerous. The death of the righteous is only a temporary experience, and for this reason it is spoken of as a "sleep," the very word containing the promise of an awakening. Soon God's sleeping saints of all ages will come from their dusty beds with the triumphant shout, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
To the genuine Christian, therefore, death and funerals are not overly important; consequently costly display and extravagance are not in keeping with true Christian concepts. While a funeral should have a spiritual significance, it also has a secular element in its nature, so much so that the Jews never permitted a burial, or even an anointing or embalming for burial, on the Sabbath. This attitude is also reflected in most religious bodies who regard Sunday as their holy day. Funerals have usually been considered as too secular to be conducted on the day of rest. Sometimes we are not so careful in this respect as others who do not have the light given us.
This disregard for the Sabbath seems to be on the increase in some places. This is to be regretted. The remedy lies with our ministers. If we kindly but firmly decline to conduct or assist in Sabbath funerals under normal circumstances, we will have little difficulty along this line. We might be wise to make it known that we do not believe in Sabbath funerals and that wherever possible they should be avoided. Our people are usually willing to cooperate in this as in other things. Occasionally someone will appear eager to have the funeral of a loved one held on the Sabbath in order to have a large attendance of our people. To emphasize the point they will remind us that certain of our prominent leaders were buried on the Sabbath. Repetition, however, does not make a thing right. There is an important principle involved, and we need to be guided by principle.
Think of what is involved in a Sabbath funeral. The grave itself will probably be dug on that day; thus the workmen become our menservants, their pay being included in the burial costs. The undertaker and all his helpers are also hired to work for us on the Sabbath, for which labor they too are paid. Most of the floral pieces are made up on the Sabbath, so that the florists also become our hired servants. Moreover, Sabbath funerals are likely to disrupt church services and keep many away from Sabbath school and the service of worship. Some Sabbath funerals have disrupted and disturbed several church services where the funeral was within easy traveling radius.
In the case of a death, sentiment sometimes replaces reason and judgment, so that unwise moves are made. It is to be regretted that funerals are often made very expensive and an occasion for a show and extravagance that the family are not able to bear financially. Some times hundreds of dollars are spent that might be used to benefit the living members of the family, and heavy debts are even incurred. The best time to demonstrate affection for our loved ones is while they are with us, and no great display at the funeral can ever atone for any previous neglect.
Of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be the very last to follow the customs of the world in the conduct of funerals. And we who believe that Christ is soon coming to call forth the dead should not sorrow as "others who have no hope."
Let us then as leaders in God's cause deter mine that we will do all we can to eliminate this serious transgression of God's holy day by both example and precept, and thus protect the Sabbath from the many secular and semisecular duties that would mar its sanctity and destroy its significance. Let us not permit the burial of the dead to interfere with the worship of the living God. And let us guide our people away from needless extravagance and display. They will follow our example and leadership.
When Elder A. G. Daniells' lifework was closing, he expressly requested that his funeral not be held on Sabbath. And only a few days ago another of our loved and stalwart leaders passed to his rest and was buried from this church, not on Sabbath but on Sunday. Typical of his simplicity in life and his eagerness to see every dollar possible turned into the treasury of the Lord was the request that no flowers be sent. Two or three wreaths from the immediate family decorated the casket. The absence of display testified of his faith. The service was simple, yet beautiful, a true symbol of the message he loved.