Lessons from the House of Mourning - A Funeral Meditation
This is the transcript of the funeral meditation for Dema Mishler, given at Greenwood Mennonite Church on February 17, 2019 by her grandson Shawn Yoder.
C.T. Studd, a missionary to China, India and Africa, once wrote a poem entitled Only One Life. I won’t read the whole poem, but the first two stanzas go like this:
Two little lines I heard one day
Traveling along life’s busy way; Bringing conviction to my heart
And from my mind would not depart Only one life, ‘twill soon be past
Only what’s done for Christ will last
Only one life, yes only one
Soon will it’s fleeting hours be done Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet
And stand before His judgment seat Only one life, ‘twill soon be past
Only what’s done for Christ will last
Today is a reminder that we only have one life…and that one life will soon be past.
But it’s also a call for us to use that one life in ways that last.
There are many words that we could use to describe Grandma
She was a woman who lived life with Joy. Grandma loved to laugh, and she loved to make others laugh.
A word that comes to my mind is Ornery. You never knew what Grandma was going to come up with.
You might use the word Love to describe Grandma. Grandma was someone who sincerely loved those around her. One of the last things that Grandma said to me was that “[she] couldn’t have loved me any better.” And that was true not just of me and of her family, but of everyone. Grandma couldn’t have loved any better. Whether you knew her for many years or you had just met in an aisle in the grocery store – Grandma extended love to you.
One of the more defining characteristics of Grandma’s life is that she was a Wife. You can’t speak of Grandma without Grandpa. Or Grandpa without Grandma. They were a team. Whether they were serving in the church, attending a Billy Graham evangelism conference, or working on a house Grandpa was building they were together, working side by side. Grandma loved her John dear – and was deeply loved by him.
There are many words that could be used to describe Grandma, but as I have reflected on her life the word that stands out above them all is Intentional. Grandma lived her life intentionally. She lived it with purpose. And that purpose was that in all things her desire was that Jesus would be exalted in her life.
And that was because Grandma knew what C.T. Studd knew. That we only have one life, and that it would soon be past. And Grandma intended to spend that life, to leverage the one life that she had been given, to the greatest good.
In Ephesians we’re called to “make the best use of our time.” And days like today remind us why – because we never know how much more time we might have.
That is part of the reason why in Ecclesiastes we’re told that:
Ecclesiastes 7:2 “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.”
Think about that: It’s better to go to the house of mourning than a feast – it’s better to go to a funeral than a party - the author of Ecclesiastes tells us. Because it is there that we learn lessons, and take to heart what is important in life.
Daniel Fredericks in his commentary on these verses said:
“[Death] is the great mentor for diligence, sobriety, love, generosity, reverence and humility. Death forces the most profound questions to be asked, but mercilessly mocks those who sleep through its lessons.”
In her Bibles Grandma would fill the margins and empty spots on the opening pages with sermon notes, quotes, and thoughts that she had as she read God’s Word. In fact, I’m not sure who wrote more in Grandma’s Bible – her or the Holy Spirit. And I’ve spent a lot of time reading through those notes these last few days.
And one of the comments that she made is a question that she asked herself: “Do you ever think of dying?” And then she wrote: “I’ve read that the amount of time you spend in thinking about it tells the maturity of your spiritual life.” And she commented: “Wow! This makes sense to me.”
And then underneath that she wrote: “a beautiful chapter on life after death is 2nd Corinthians 5.”
So following Grandma’s lead, I want to briefly look at the first few verses of 2nd Corinthians 5 and look at some lessons that we can learn as we enter the house of mourning.
And the first lesson that we learn in 2nd Corinthians chapter 5 is that Death is Certain
Lesson 1: Death is Certain
Grandma loved her Living version of the Bible, so let me read verse 1 of chapter 5 from that paraphrase:
2 Corinthians 5:1 “For we know that when this tent we live in now is taken down – when we die and leave these bodies – we will have wonderful new bodies in heaven, homes that will be ours forevermore, made for us by God himself, and not by human hands.” (The Living Bible)
Paul compares our earthly bodies to tents. Tents were a familiar object for Paul. He made his living and supported his ministry by making tents. Paul valued tents……But he also knew the limits of a tent.
A tent is great on a peaceful fall evening. But it is terrible in a storm.
A tent is great for a weekend getaway, but it isn’t suitable for a permanent dwelling.
Tents are vulnerable, and tents are temporary.
And Paul says, that is what these human bodies are. They are temporary. And they are vulnerable. They aren’t made to last forever. They are susceptible to storms. And Paul tells us, we should know this. We need to know this. We should know that there will come a day when our tents will be taken down.
Not too many people tent camp anymore. I spent three straight months living out of a tent, so I don’t like to tent camp anymore either.
But now days we have campers and RV’s that fill our campgrounds with maybe a handful of tents scattered about. And sometimes I look at the setup of some people’s RV’s and wonder: can this really still be considered camping? Isn’t it really just relocating your home? Or making a second home?
We go to great trouble to remove all of the experiences we don’t like about camping:
All the inconveniences,
All the vulnerabilities,
All sense of it being temporary.
Sometimes we do that with our lives to don’t we? We go to great lengths to make ourselves forget that this world is not our home. We go to great lengths to forget that this is simply a temporary visit. We go to great lengths to forget about the certainty of death.
Paul doesn’t want us to forget this – this life is temporary. This body, this existence, is simply a tent. And one day it will be taken down. Death is certain.
God told Adam and Eve that on the day they ate of the fruit of the tree they would surely die. And ever since that day, death has been a certainty for all of mankind.
In the book of Job, Job says I know of the certainty of death.
Job 30:23 “I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living.”
And we should know this as well. Death is a certainty.
Lesson 2: Death is Necessary
But in that first verse of 2nd Corinthians 5 we also see that Death is Necessary.
Death is not just inevitable, but Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that Death is vital. It’s necessary.
Because without it - without the folding up of our tents - we cannot put on our permanent dwelling.
Let me reread verse 1 in the ESV along with the verses that follow it:
2 Corinthians 5:1-4 “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (ESV)
C.S. Lewis once wrote that if we find in ourselves desires that cannot be satisfied with anything in this world, then it tells us that we were made for another world. Paul tells us that there is a desire that we all share that cannot be satisfied with anything in this world. And that is the desire for eternal living.
Paul tells us we weren’t made to dwell in tents, but we were made to dwell in buildings. We were made for permanent dwellings. And we long to put on those permanent dwellings. We groan for it, Paul says. And that word groan refers to an inarticulate painful longing.
Deep within us there is an unshakable longing for the eternal. But the only way for that longing to be satisfied is through death. Death is necessary.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth Paul writes that:
1 Corinthians 15:53-55 “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (NLT)
There is coming a day when death will no longer be inevitable or necessary. And we long for that day, don’t we? There is coming a day when death will be swallowed up in victory. But the only way to arrive at that day is for our mortal bodies to put on immortality, and our dying bodies to be transformed into bodies that will never die.
And that transformation takes place through the gateway of death.
How amazing it is that the greatest enemy – which is death – for the Christian, has become the way to victory. And that our greatest fear, is now the pathway to find what we long for the most.
And all of this is because God himself, has come, experienced death, and robbed the grave of its power.
Donald Grey Barnhouse was a pastor and seminary professor, who lost his wife when his three children were still very young. As they were driving to the funeral, he was looking for words to say to his children to bring them comfort and peace.
It was a bright, sunny day, and as they came up to a stoplight, a big truck pulled up beside them and cast its shadow on them. Just then Barnhouse had an idea. He asked his daughter, “Which would you rather be hit by, that truck or the shadow of the truck?” “The shadow, of course,” she answered. “That’s right,” Barnhouse said, “and that’s the way it is with death for a Christian. Jesus was hit by death so that we would only be hit by its shadow.”
All must die, but because of Jesus, all those who are saved by his death on a cross – though we die, yet shall we live.
And finally, the last lesson from 2nd Corinthians is that Death is not the end.
Lesson 3: Death is Not the End
Death is certain, death is necessary, but the good news that we celebrate today is that Death is not the End.
In the front of her Bible, one of the notes Grandma wrote reads: “To a Christian, death is not a punishment. But an open door to Heaven.”
Death is not the end. But death, ultimately is just the beginning. Death is a bridge, from this temporary life, into eternal life with God.
And what awaits us on the other side of that bridge? Verses I love to read and include in as many sermons as possible, Revelation 21:
Revelation 21:1-5 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
And I love that God commanded, at the end of that passage, that these things be written down. He wants to make sure we know these things.
And as I think back on Grandma’s life, one of the things that was the driving force of her life was that she wanted people to know these things. She wanted everyone she knew, everyone she met, to arrive at this day in Revelation 21.
Paul says that in light of these lessons that we learn from the house of mourning, we too should live with that same ambition. In verse 15 of chapter 5, the Living Bible reads like this:
2nd Corinthians 5:15 “He died for all so that all who live – having received eternal life from him – might live no longer for themselves, to please themselves, but to spend their lives pleasing Christ who died and rose again for them.”
Or as C.T. Studd said in the last two stanza’s of his poem:
Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, “twill soon be past
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Only one life, yes only one
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Death is Certain. Death is Necessary. But thanks be to God, Death is Not the End.