Funerals are scenes that most people like to avoid. I've talked to junior high students in my Friday morning group who have never even attended a funeral. In the past, when families were more closely knit and communities were tighter, funerals were events that would shut down the entire community and all family members would attend.
I've attended my fair share of funerals, even before becoming a pastor. It's been said that a church's theology is best stated at funeral services. This is true. What we believe about heaven, hell and life and death is best explained at these services.
This being the day before Easter, there is the natural remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ. The story of the tomb and the burial, the Roman guard being posted, Judas committing suicide and the delayed preparation of Jesus' body due to the Sabbath restrictions are all part of this study.
At most funerals, even when the eternity of the deceased is secured in heaven, the depth of grief results in mourning and tears.
I recently read where in many countries, professional mourners fill the gap on these days. In Guy Kawasaki's book on leadership and vision titled Enchantment, he uses the example of professional mourners in a section titled "Provide Social Proof." He states. . .
Families pay women to mourn at funerals in cultures all over the world. I posted a message on my blog asking for verification of this, and my readers told me this happens in Pakistan, Israel, Russia, India, Spain, Lebanon, China, Romania, Malaysia, Serbia, and Vietnam. In Vietnam, there are even two tiers of pricing: With and without tears! (Enchantment, 73)
What a strange concept. Kawasaki goes on to say that these women provide proof that the deceased was loved and will be missed.
This is a foreign concept to many of us in the West. Here, funerals tend to be attended by family and friends, maybe some co-workers and sometimes neighbors and community members. All attend to show support for others (perhaps the family members) or to honor the memory of the deceased.
I found this clip from 1963 of professional mourners in Sardinia. It just seems so strange to me. . .
This practice is also mentioned in Scripture at times.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Consider, and call for the mourning women to come; send for the skillful women to come;" (Jeremiah 9:17 ESV)
Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: "In all the squares there shall be wailing, and in all the streets they shall say, 'Alas! Alas!' They shall call the farmers to mourning and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation," (Amos 5:16 ESV)
We also see the professional mourners alluded to in the account of Christ's raising the little girl from death in Mark 5.
What does it mean to mourn?
I'm sure, as accounted for in Scripture, the professional mourners and those truly saddened by the death of Christ were lamenting and wailing the death of Jesus. Some did this in hiding, for fear of being crucified themselves. The time following the death of Christ must have been the lowest for those disciples who had followed Him for up to three years. The questions about life, the Kingdom of God, the full grace of God offered and all that Christ taught must have been innumerable. There was a great emptiness in the world and in the hearts of these followers.
The three days since the crucifixion must have seemed like an eternity.
I'm sure tears were flowing, wails were loud, clothing was torn and tempers were probably flaring.
Then. . .the day of resurrection came.
We often talk of the day of the crucifixion (celebrated on Good Friday, but as noted in a previous post, could have been on Thursday or maybe even Wednesday.) We focus, rightly so, on the morning of resurrection. But, what about the days in between?
As a believer have you ever felt confused? Scared? Unsure?
That's what these bold men and women of God were experiencing. Why? They didn't see the full picture yet. They didn't understand the fullness of God's grace.
Then, Sunday came.
Perhaps this is what you need. Maybe you're a believer, but you feel disconnected. I meet many that feel this way. They've forgotten the bigger story. They've found themselves mourning. . .but not knowing why. This weekend is a great time to re-boot. To re-focus on what the story is truly all about. To realize that the story isn't over. Christ rose again, defeated death and is alive today. . .to glorify the Father and allow us the great opportunity to live.
The mourners tears were transformed into joy the moment they saw Jesus. Maybe you just need to see Jesus clearly today?
Are you mourning? Remember what Christ said here. . .
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4 ESV)
How can you be blessed for mourning and find comfort? Those who mourn and recognize the depth of their depravity and needs will be comforted by the grace-giver. The life Christ offers and the message of the gospel is the comfort needed. The disciples mourned and were comforted by God Himself. That, too is our story. In Him, you find peace.