A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.-Ecclesiastes 7:1
Almost every time I assist in officiating a funeral I think of Ecclesiastes 7:1 and I am reminded that death is a teacher.
The day of death is better than the day of birth-not because death is better than life, but because a coffin preaches better sermons than a crib. “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death comes to us all, and the living should take this to hear”-7:2. “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure”-7:4.
From my perch on the platform at funerals I have noticed two types of people. The fools, who shift in their seats, desperate to be outside in the sunshine and back to what they were doing; and the wise, who stare at the coffin and realize that one day it will be their turn. Such inattention or attention to death paves two very different roads through life.
Observe the fat cat at the top of the pile, seated at the best table in the exclusive restaurant. He has done it all, made it all, and he eats all alone in his discontent. Proud? Selfish? Perhaps-but why? It is because he does not believe he is going to die. He has never met death’s gaze with a steady eye. He has not met his death in advance and watched it pry open his hands and operate on his heart.
The wise, seated in the crematorium and riveted anew to their mortality, say to themselves: “If I am going to die, how then shall I live?” They rise, reborn by death’s answer: wine and work, sex and food, love and laughter, beauty and truth, and lots of each-that will do for starters (9:7-9). Death makes pleasure-seekers, not doom-dwellers or naysayers.
May I paraphrase? Death causes the wise to examine their life. Ride a bike, see the Grand Canyon, go to the theater, learn to make music, visit the sick, care for the dying, cook a meal, feed the hungry, watch a film, read a book, laugh with some friends until it makes you cry, play football, run a marathon, snorkel in the ocean, listen to Mozart, talk to your parents on the phone, write a letter, play with your kids, spend your money, learn a language, plant a church, start a school, speak about Christ, travel to somewhere you’ve never been, adopt a child, give away your fortune and then some, shape someone else’s life by laying down your own.
One day, working and planning and knowledge and wisdom will cease, so do them now while you can. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all you have. Dying people, who truly know they are dying, are among all people the most alive. They are not here to live forever. They are here to live for now, for today-and most of all they are here to live for others.
In conclusion, death trades in humility. It punctures the futile project of trying to be God. Death teaches the young to lose their life for something greater than life, and to risk all for Christ and His kingdom; it teaches the old why God beyond the grave is the hope of a world reborn in righteousness and equity. Death crafts a worldview dedicated not to the pursuit of gain, but to generosity and contentment. Death gives perspective in pain. It helps us lose, for one day God will put everything right.
Spend your death on living.