Remembering Death, Cherishing Life

In the years following the horrific battles of the Civil war, Americans began memorializing the deaths of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. The losses were profound, and family and friends never wanted to forget the cost in human lives. Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971 and is set aside to honor the men and women who have died for our freedoms while serving in the U.S. military.

Many Americans take the holiday very seriously and visit national cemeteries to remember loved ones. Others simply enjoy a day off for yard work, grilling out, sharing time with friends, or beginning their summer vacation by traveling. In any case, today we are reminded that the price tag for our freedoms is high. We grieve the loss of family and friends. We reflect on the truth that death is real and that life is precious and short.

Today we are reminded that the price tag for our freedoms is high. We grieve the loss of family and friends. We reflect on the truth that death is real and that life is precious and short.

Biblical Perspective

Not long ago I sat with a group of church leaders in an early morning prayer time. As we prayed, the Lord directed me to this unusual passage that puts the brevity of life and meaning of death and sacrifice in perspective.

“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth; Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4).

I have often said that “the worst of times are the best of times; they just don’t feel like it at the time.” The Lord used this portion of Scripture to remind me of this truth. Even in the midst of memorializing the loss of life we know that God has a purpose in all things. We should reflect soberly on these truths and find ultimate meaning in Christ.

Our Redeemer in Life and Death

We can be assured that our God is a redeemer. He redeems all things; not just our broken souls but also our shattered dreams and senseless losses. This word of wisdom from Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7 comforted me with a few clear applications.

We can be assured that our God is a redeemer. He redeems all things; not just our broken souls but also our shattered dreams and senseless losses.

I. The day of death is the crowning moment of a notable life– For this reason, “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” The purpose of a believer’s life is the glory of God and the advancement of the Gospel. Our lives are not measured by how long we lived but how well we lived – and for whom we lived. All the world’s goods (“precious ointment”) mean very little when we take our final breath. But “a good name” – a life given to others, a journey that adorned Christ, a sure reward in heaven – make even the day of death a glorious tribute to the Giver of Life.

The purpose of a believer’s life is the glory of God and the advancement of the Gospel. Our lives are not measured by how long we lived but how well we lived – and for whom we lived.

II. The “house of mourning” reinforces the essential lesson of life’s brevity– In a “house of feasting” (a lifestyle of delighting in the superficial and transitory stimuli of this brief life) most people are oblivious to the greater realities of our earthly journey. In the house of mourning, every soul is once again brought back to the reality that this life is a “vapor that appears for a little while then vanishes away” (James 4:14). According to Solomon, “the living take this to heart.” As a result, our souls embrace a fresh surrender to “the Lord’s will” (James 4:15). Every death should remind us that life is short, eternity is long, souls matter, and the real scoreboard is in Heaven.

Every death should remind us that life is short, eternity is long, souls matter, and the real scoreboard is in Heaven.

III. Sorrow can make the heart better, not bitter – Returning once more to Solomon’s words, we read, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Fools dance their way through life, pretending all is well, based on superficial measures of well-being and happiness.

It is different for a true Christ follower. God pours grace into our losses in order to strengthen our hearts with real wisdom. Wisdom is the application of truth that allows us to see life from God’s perspective. Yes, we mourn the loss of loved ones, sometimes with hot tears, broken hearts, and honest questions. Yet, through the pain, the Lord gives us a wisdom that infuses new purity, peace, clarity, humility, surrender, goodness, and authenticity. God’s supernatural peace in the midst of the storm produces a deeper, more genuine godliness (see James 3:17 & 18). Sadly, many believers harden their hearts to His grace and wisdom, resigning themselves to continual hurt, bitterness, and anger.

God pours grace into our losses in order to strengthen our hearts with real wisdom. Wisdom is the application of truth that allows us to see life from God’s perspective.

Author Walt Henrichsen writes, “No one escapes ‘the grim reaper.’ Mortality is 100 percent. God brings grief into your life to sober and prepare you, not to discourage you. God sees ‘the end from the beginning’ and He invites you to the house of mourning so that you can do the same thing.”

“No one escapes ‘the grim reaper.’ Mortality is 100 percent. God brings grief into your life to sober and prepare you, not to discourage you. God sees ‘the end from the beginning’ and He invites you to the house of mourning so that you can do the same thing.” – Walt Henrichsen

True Perspective

The Apostle Paul, writing from prison beneath the shadow of the emperor’s murderous sword, wrote, “…according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21). For Paul, life was defined by the opportunity to influence eternal souls for eternal purposes by the power of the Gospel. Death was the gateway to eternal joy and reward.

For Paul, life was defined by the opportunity to influence eternal souls for eternal purposes by the power of the Gospel. Death was the gateway to eternal joy and reward.

So, if we happened to pause long enough today to reflect on the meaning of this Memorial Day, we can certainly cherish the freedoms that we enjoy and the high price of human life that has been exacted for our benefit. Beyond this, as this vapor of earthly existence passes quickly for us all, we can see life from God’s perspective and know that because of the death and resurrection of Jesus we have hope. Yes, our Redeemer lives and reigns – even in the house of mourning

Copyright © 2019 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.