A good name is worth more than the finest perfume, and the day you die is better than the day you were born. In the same way, it is better to go to a funeral than a celebration. Why? Because death is the end of life’s journey, and the living should always take that to heart. Sorrow beats foolish laughter; embracing sadness somehow gladdens our hearts. A wise heart is well acquainted with grief, but a foolish heart seeks only pleasure’s company. (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 VOICE)
The Teacher seems to speak in harsh contrasts, doesn’t he? He seems to take some of our most cherished and special moments, upends them, and tells us that we have it backwards. I stress again that this same Teacher tells us to live life well and with energy and passion, but he goes further and also tells that there is far more to existing than what we see in this earthly life. This life is a mere moment of passage – like passing through a tunnel, of sorts, from one side of a mountain to the other. And while there can be great joy and many wonderful experiences in this moment of life – the Teacher calls the moments a ‘vapor’ or ‘wisp’ of life – there is, incredibly, something beyond this life that is far grander and amazingly more satisfying than anything we can experience here. Maybe it’s all like hearing an explanation about a kiss – it sounds awesome – and actually being the one kissed hard on the lips – it is too much to explain or understand.
The Teacher links today’s idea of a funeral being better than a celebration back to what we discussed yesterday – one’s day of dying is better than his day of birth. The Teacher uses the linking phrase “in the same way” to tie the two ideas together. What we discussed yesterday is apropos to today’s discussion. It’s all about perspective and having a deeper understanding about the ways of God. This earthly existence is nothing more or less than a way-point along the route to eternity. It’s hard for me to grasp, frankly.
I enjoyed Lilly’s birthday last weekend. She turned two years old. Good for her. As I sat with her and watched her gambol about, I thought about some of the words of the Teacher and his perspective on things eternal. And then it hit me like a truck. Lilly probably had the best perspective of any of us at her party. She played hard with giggles and shrieks, she enjoyed her cheese pizza using strange words and funny faces, and then she fell asleep! Just like that. She got wobbly-headed, her eyes glazed over, and she fell asleep on her dad’s shoulder. And she slept the rest of her party. She slept peacefully and beautifully in spite of a gray, snaggletoothed, eight foot rat walking around the joint, the yells and screams of other kids, the dinging and clanging of game machines, and the ambient rumble of voices. She checked out of her birthday party celebration for some rest. After all, she might have thought, there is more where this came from so I’m going to take a little rest and I’ll be back later.
As you know, the youngest never understand parties, Christmas, July 4th, or any kind of such assemblage. They seem to enjoy the colors, music, and attention but it is beyond them as to what exactly is happening. It takes a few years for them to begin to understand that many celebrations are about them and that the parties are about getting stuff (usually) like gifts and acknowledgement. (My sister used to get sick with anticipation on Christmas mornings. So there the family would all be on Christmas morning ripping and talking and eating and she would be sitting on the couch slowly recovering from her night of sickness. Thankfully, she would recover pretty fast.) Maybe the innocent perspective of very young ones of parties is something to be envied. I like a good party as much as the next person but perhaps we sometimes run the risk of placing too much emphasis on the here and now and not enough on what comes next. But this is a pretty mature attitude, for sure, and we probably aren’t going to attend many parties if somehow the stated theme is passage, mortality, and moribundity.
But wait, we do attend ‘parties’ about the end, don’t we? We call them funerals. And most funerals are a celebration, of sorts, about the one newly deceased. We usually talk about her accomplishments, her place in eternity, her model and example, and so forth. The best funerals, to me, are the ones where we mourn with tears and pain but we also are able to remember the goods times and maybe even laugh respectively about funny remembrances. A good funeral has pictures of family and friends. A good funeral reminds all of us that we will sorely miss the departed one but that it was a really good run and that we need to be thankful for the love shown from her during her time with us and that our faith says that she has transitioned to another phase of her eternal existence. Through our veil of earthly tears, we can thankfully and thoughtfully see her in her new eternal garb – and she looks really good!
The Teacher knows of what he speaks, I think. I’ve often wondered how many good people he had seen die in his life that he had loved and cared deeply for. Did he miss them? I’m sure he did. But did he relish the idea that they had returned, so to speak, back into the eternal stream of things? I imagine so. I don’t think the Teacher’s words are just good words to live by. Rather, I believe they come from a man who had seen many birthday parties but had also seen and been apart of many funerals, too. And after all of the birthdays and funerals, he understood that celebrating a person being freed from earthly life was far better than simple celebrations of the moment.