One recent Saturday, I was part of remarkable wedding held on a lush, green hillside overlooking a Pennsylvania valley. Both bride and groom were from military families, and the father of each of them had lost his life overseas in the service of his country. The groom's dad was killed in Afghanistan; the bride's father perished in South Korea. The moms met at a support group for military widows and their children fell in love.
The memories of the dads hovered over this event of joy, moments from the house of mourning colored the festivities in the house of feasting. A table set with the fathers' photographs under the flag pole occupied a place of honor. Tears, there were many for only the coldest of hearts could avoid shedding some.
And, yet, joy reigned. Smiles shined everywhere from beneath reddened eyes. A poignancy was there. What would the feast on this day have been without the funerals that had come years before? Mourning moments, we would like them not to happen. But death, sorrow, sickness, sadness are realities. In the house of mourning there are things that are very difficult to negotiate and manage.
In Ecclesiastes 7:2-4, we read a striking passage from King Solomon:
"It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
"Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."
Those words stick out to us for the culture of this day exalts happiness and life pursuits that take us from happy place to happy place. The house of mourning is better, Solomon wrote. The wise ones are in the house of mourning. This house makes for better hearts. Bouncing from party to party to party may seem like the more desirable way to spend our days, but that is not so says Solomon, a man who had the time, money, mind, and tranquility to adventure wherever he felt moved to go.
Better is the house of mourning. I’d rather be with Christ in some trouble for good reason. I’d rather be standing in this country with Bible convictions about what our culture is saying and face reality because one day we will stand before God and give account.
Days of joy are in our future. The Bible unveils a bit of what's to come for us in Revelation. Those days are not now, however. Some of our moments will feel as "birth pangs" -- labor pains -- Jesus said: " A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world" (John 16:21). Pain and sweat and work mark the labor and delivery time for a mother. But when the son is laid in her arms, those hard times fade right away.
The wedding in Pennsylvania was what it was, I think, because the families had been to the house of mourning. And on some days I am sure that they find themselves there again because this is the way grief goes. But on this day, what sweetness, what delight, what brokenness, what humility, what fulfillment came among these people of God. Poignancy. Presence. Peace. A son took a daughter to be his bride to have and to hold. It pointed us to another day ahead when the Son will take His Bride, to have and to hold forever in His presence. And then will come the feast.
Written by Pastor Steve Andrulonis based on July 8, 2015 message "The House of Mourning" by Pastor Thomas Schaller.