Summary: If we’re open, we can discover a lot from times of sorrow and loss.
Overcoming Futility—a sermon series on Ecclesiastes
“Funerals Better Than Parties”, 7:1-12
-Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
These may sound like dark words, but they contain profound wisdom. People often refuse to face death, and are reluctant to attend funerals. We view life as God’s greatest gift, and we regard death as the worst that could happen. Most people would rather not think about death, yet Solomon says that they’d be better off spending some time at funerals, because they could use a reality check. If we’re open, we can discover a lot from times of sorrow and loss, if we view occasions like this as opportunities to learn from God.
There’s value in sorrow. We learn more from difficult times than happy times. If we view death with the eyes of faith, we see that death is actually the best of all possible events…because this life is a mere rehearsal for the life to come. Heaven is real, and glorious. This is why the day of our departure is better than the day of our birth. I wish I could paint a picture of Heaven, but all I know is what Scripture says, and the writers use mostly poetic language. Trying to describe Heaven to us is like trying to describe this world to an unborn child. All we really know is that if we’re living for God, the best is yet to come.
I want to focus on verses 1-4, and I’d like us to hear them again from a modern translation, the Message: “A good reputation is more valuable than the most expensive perfume. In the same way, the day you die is better than the day you are born. It is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. For you are going to die, and you should think about it while there is still time. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. A wise person thinks much about death, while the fool thinks only about having a good time now.”
By recognizing the brevity of life, we face our life and reputation seriously. It has to be tough living with a tarnished reputation, knowing that moments of failure will likely be part of your obituary. Verse 1 points out the importance of maintaining a “good name.” I can think of no tougher name to live with (at least in Boston) than poor Bill Buckner. A movie about his infamous flub is about to open called, “Game 6”. Mookie Wilson hit a routine grounder to first base, but the ball went under Bill Buckner’s glove and into right field, allowing Ray Knight to score and give the Mets a World Series victory. “I can’t remember the last time I missed a ball like that,” said Buckner, “but I’ll remember this one.”
In an instant something can happen that can result in a lifetime of regret: a word poorly chosen, a rash decision, a missed opportunity. “Anger resides in the lap of fools,” verse 9. I’ve lived to regret some foolish, angry words.
Solomon’s point is that how we live in however many days we’re given matters. Do you ever think of what people might say about you at your funeral? What kind of eulogy might you be given? Garrison Keillor remarked that at his funeral he wants people to weep uncontrollably with abject despair! We hope people will miss us, and we hope they’ll think well of us. We hope to leave “a good reputation.” There’s a play on words in the text: “A good reputation is better than fine perfume.” The Hebrew word for “reputation” is shem, and the Hebrew word for perfume is shemen. Though perfume or cologne may help make us attractive, a good reputation is better. Perfume doesn’t last, but a good reputation lasts even after we’re gone. We may not be able to afford a bottle of Channel No. 5, but we will spare no expense to maintain a good reputation. “The end of a matter is better than its beginning,” verse 8. We hope to reach the end of our days with no regrets.
Some people question the very notion of having funerals; what purpose do they serve? They can’t be for the dead, who’ve departed this life. They are emphatically for the living. In times of grief, ritual can help the healing. Some people specify that when they die, there’s to be no service, not realizing how selfish that is. They are denying to others a useful means of saying goodbye. Those anticipating death may not care for funerals, but they forget that others need them. I think one reason some people don’t want a funeral for themselves is because they have little hope for an after-life; they see death as final--“the end”. Christians view death as “to be continued.” Some people don’t attend funerals because each funeral anticipates their own. They’d prefer to live in denial of death.