Friday, April 2, 2010

It is not death to die

Just in time for Easter, a post about death and resurrection, and more encouragement from the CD Come Weary Saints.

I was driving the kids home from school when I saw something you don't expect on an arterial road in a major city. It was a horse-drawn carriage, taking up the left-hand lane, slowing the traffic to a crawl.

As we stopped at the traffic lights, I looked more closely, and realized it was a hearse pulled by two grey horses with black plumes nodding on their heads, incongruous against the bare concrete wall of our local shopping centre. On the seat behind the horses perched two cheerfully chatting black-suited men—one bare-headed and balding, the other in a top hat. The hearse was topped with a plain wooden cross worthy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its glass sides displayed a glossy mahogany coffin, boasting a huge floral arrangement and brass fittings.

Behind the hearse drove three cars in tasteful green. The first car was packed with flowers. The second and third cars—stretch limousines with darkened windows—were, no doubt, packed with well-dressed mourners.

It all seemed a little excessive, this ostentatious panoply of death. But perhaps that's what is left when you die without Jesus. Like a glamorous wedding, a funeral becomes an opportunity for extravagant theatre, for it's the closing scene in the all-important story of ‘me’. Such a funeral displays the forlorn hope that death, in all its horror and finality, can be placated with pomp and held off with ceremony.

For Christians, death still brings sorrow. But we don't grieve “as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). We weep, but we also rejoice. When Jesus died and rose again, he defeated death and overcame its power (Acts 2:24; 1 Cor 15:54-57; Heb 2:14). In a Christian funeral, instead of despairing ceremony and exaggerated eulogy, there is comforting simplicity and praise for the one who has freed us from the fear of death.

As the lights changed and we drove past the hearse, I flicked over to the song ‘It is not death to die’* on Come Weary Saints, the CD that was playing on my car stereo. It's a song that sums up the Christian attitude to death: there is no despair in leaving this weary life and exchanging it for heaven, for Jesus has conquered the grave.

I've always sworn that I'll never say, “I want such-and-such at my funeral”. But I've broken my promise to myself. When I got home, I told my husband (and now you!) that while I certainly don't want an elaborate funeral cortege, I do want this song sung at my funeral. I want people to remember that it is not death to die.

* From a 1832 hymn written by Henri Malan and translated by George Bethune, adapted and arranged by Bob Kauflin for the Sovereign Grace album Come Weary Saints.

This post first appeared on Sola Panel yesterday.

images are from wolfmanmoike at flickr and stock.xchng

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