A few weeks ago Carolyn and I were wondering if we should attend a memorial service. A pastor friend’s wife had died. We really didn’t know her very well. We decided to go. It was one of the better decisions we made that week.
Sharion Hreha memorial service, Oceanside, California, October 10, 2015
How could attending a memorial service be such a great idea? Well, let’s start with a verse Carolyn pointed out to me: “Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies—so the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2 NLT)
This verse is found in one of the Bible books of wisdom literature. But where is the wisdom in this statement? It’s counterintuitive.
Here is what we found about why it is better to attend funerals than parties:
01. It Gives Us a Prime Opportunity to Evaluate Our Lives
Sharing the experience of someone’s death at a funeral service gives us pause to consider what we are living for, how people will remember us, and what we will look back on at the end of life.
At the memorial service, there were words from friends and children of the deceased. What was most noticeable to me was the fact that they didn’t talk about accomplishments as much as relationships. They mostly spoke of Sharion as a mother and friend, not as a church secretary, women’s leader, event organizer, church staff member, etc.
Most of us, especially guys, want to be remembered for accomplishments. But at that memorial service, accomplishments didn’t matter much—relationships were what counted. My experience is that is the norm; at the end of life, people are what matters most.
It was a great reminder for me, as one who loves to accomplish things, that relationships are more important than accomplishments, especially relationships with my family.
02. We Can Learn from Other’s Mistakes
While the memorial service we attended was a great reminder of a life well lived, other services we have attended sadly reminded us of big mistakes and failures.
I have been at services where the deceased left a legacy of:
Death due to violence
Death due to personal foolishness
When I see issues like these, I remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.” (Philippians 3:12 NLT)
Paul knew he had made some big mistakes. He even called himself the “chief of sinners.” But he still kept pressing on toward “perfection.” He learned from his mistakes (and probably others). We should do the same.
03. We Encourage the Family
Simply being present at a funeral service says to the living, “You are important. I care about you and your loss.” Maybe that’s a no-brainer, but we need to be reminded that our physical presence is enough to make a huge statement. It’s easy to not show up, but it is important.
Often we assume that we need to have sage words of encouragement, but we end up saying things that are trite or even hurtful. When a child dies, it can be painful to suggest that God wanted the child with him, instead of on earth with the parents. Better probably just to say, “I’m hurting with you and praying for you.”
Don’t be a “Job’s comforter.” They were no comfort at all. It’s better just be present, put your hand on their shoulder, give a hug and be there.
04. We are Reminded that Death Will Visit Each of us Soon
I don’t know about you, but I tend to live life like there is no ending point. Death is too weird to anticipate and comprehend. Other people die, not me!
A memorial service is a great reminder that our lives are so temporary: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14 NIV)
This reminder helps us live with a better perspective which James gives in the next verse: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:15 NIV)
Zig Ziglar used to say “We’ll be dead a lot longer than we’re alive.”
That’s a great truth to keep in mind. It helps us maintain perspective on life:
Not to take ourselves too seriously
Not to internalize our failures too deeply
Not to worry much about our challenges
To be prepared for eternity. Click HERE for how you can be eternally saved by Jesus Christ.
05. For Christians, it is a Great Time to Anticipate Our Heavenly Home
Sitting in that memorial service we were reminded several times of the exquisite joy Sharion is experiencing now on the other side.
The Bible promises, “Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8 NLT)
Based on this Scripture we know that Sharion went directly into paradise when she died. Friends testified to her confidence that in the face of death this was her future.
We don’t know every detail about heaven, but what we do know sounds absolutely wonderful: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 NKJV)
Thinking about Sharion and others in that heavenly place made me a little envious. It was a great reminder that death is not an enemy, for the Christian it is a friend:
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-58 NLT)
For more help with death and dying, check out these other articles I’ve written: