This past week I attended the funeral of my sweet Aunt Sue. She lived a good, long life of 88 years, married to my uncle for 69 of those years. She loved her family well, served the body of Christ and her community. She was a picture of grace, and as my cousin Shana put it, she was a true southern belle.
Funerals are typically and appropriately filled with sounds of tears. Grief and loss do not make friends with smiles and laughter. Life eventually meets up with death. However, as I looked around at my loved ones during the funeral, God gave me a fresh perspective. I heard His whisper to my heart, “You can smile at a funeral.” Why is that? Because for my sweet Aunt Sue, it is not the end.
It is easy for me to say this because honestly, she was not my mother or even my grandmother. However, I know what it’s like to lose a parent. Just four years ago, I lost my dad. There was not much smiling on my part during the initial shock of losing him, and definitely not during the funeral. I grieved. That is allowed, and it is understandable.
We can probably also agree that it is easier to smile at a funeral of someone who has had the opportunity to live a long life, as opposed to someone who died way too young. It’s easier when the death is expected or when there has been a great deal of suffering. It’s easier when the one who died was a believer and follower of Christ.
But as I have reflected on my aunt’s funeral, I saw something. I saw two perspectives. I saw the deep grief of loss with no hope, and deep grief with the eyes of belief.
Grieving From a Place of Unbelief
If you experience grief on this level, then there will be devasting loss. When Jesus was crucified on the cross as an innocent man, and died an excruciatingly painful death, His disciples mourned. They truly did not understand why this happened, even after Jesus told them explicitly that it would happen. He also told them that He would rise from the dead, but deep down they did not believe. In fact, they were totally shocked when three days later the tomb was empty. They were even more shocked and elated when Jesus suddenly appeared to them in the upper room behind locked doors. Their unbelief was transformed into rejoicing hope. Their lives were never the same.
Grieving While Still Believing
The preacher at my aunt’s funeral reminded us of this Scripture, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uniformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him…. therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 18) We do not grieve like those who have no hope. If you believe Jesus died and rose again, and have surrendered your life to Him, then, like my Aunt Sue, even though absent in the body, you will be present with the Lord. I stood there in the cemetery looking at the casket that held my aunt’s body, and I couldn’t help but smile.
We ended the funeral by praying the Lord’s prayer. I couldn’t stop the tears. Tears because of my Savior, Jesus. He daily provides for me and my family. He forgives all my sin, failures and messes that I continue to make in this life. He enables me to forgive those who have wronged me. He keeps me in His loving arms all the days of my life, and His kingdom is eternal. Because Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, I can smile at a funeral.
There were members of my family at that funeral who do not know Jesus. They do not truly believe that Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the grave. Their grief comes from unbelief, and they have no hope. Thankfully and praise God, they heard the gospel through the life of my aunt, but also as the preacher proclaimed the Scriptures.
But there is a challenge here also for those who believe. Do you really believe? Then you too can smile at a funeral.