Recently I came across Scottish funeral directors who provide customised coffins. Not your standard oak or pine, or even eco-friendly wicker or sea-grass coffins—although they do all of those too—instead these are painted and printed up to look like a pint of Tennents, a bottle of Irn-Bru, or your favourite football team colours and badge. All those and many more ideas besides—some of which were relatively respectful, whilst others were the complete opposite.
Yet, ask anyone who has lost a loved one and they will tell you that death is not fun. There is an ache, and a void, like a black hole tugging us towards its emptiness.
We often make jokes when we are nervous or don’t know how to react to something serious. We’ve probably all done that. That’s what this is. Our society has lost the ability to be serious about serious things. We have elevated the trivial and trivialised the serious.
But there is something unutterably serious about death. We struggle enough with knowing how to react to it without trivialising it further.
We are all going to die, and nobody speaks to us about it seriously. We all lose family and friends—how will we mark this? With thankfulness for the person’s life—yes, that would be appropriate. With a coffin decked out as their favourite drinkable or edible? Surely not. Imagine carrying that to the graveside and lowering it into the ground, knowing that we are saying goodbye to a person we loved and cared for and valued. It trivialises their life and death—all so that we feel better.
Yet for those bereaved, they will find that is it grief they need. Something wonderful has been lost. A cheap gag on the day won’t ease that grief. They need to mourn the loss.
Death is solemn—it marks the end of a life, a God-given gift has been taken from us. We grieve the loss of what we value.
(In writing this, I am not against services marked with thankfulness for a life lived, or celebrating faithful servants of God, or relishing the triumph of the gospel. Many Christian funerals will have a beautiful balance of solemnity and joy.)
Death is solemn for another reason—it marks the entrance into eternity. Someone said to me recently, “I thought that when we died that was it.” But we all have this sense that there ought to be more to life than this—and there is. This life is just a stepping-stone to forever. But what sort of forever will it be? That is a serious weighty matter. If everything is turned into a celebration, then the utter solemnity of these moments are lost. Death should make us all stop and ponder the greatest realities of life.
It is not for nothing that the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (7:2)
The house of mourning confronts us with the one inescapable reality of life—death. And that is good. The wise live their lives in view of their death. But if we turn the house of mourning into a party, we do so to our own detriment. If we fail to realise the gravity of death whilst we live, we will realise it only when it is too late. We need to spend time in the house of mourning. What answer is there then to this inescapable solemn reality?
“Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”” (John 11:25,26)