24. Mourning/Dancing

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 24 :  A Time for Mourning or Dancing

Eccles 3:4 a time to mourn and a time to dance,

These sayings seem so obvious but perhaps there is far more to them than we see at first glance. A time to mourn?  Of course when someone dies!  That is very obvious. Is it? For whom do we genuinely mourn?  We mourn if someone close to us dies. No problem! We perhaps attend the funeral of someone who lives down the road that we vaguely knew who dies. Perhaps we aren’t so moved emotionally but we felt we ought to attend. Real mourning is a heart thing; it’s when we are sincerely moved by the loss of another person. We mourn because of loss, because of the fact that this world has lost a good person, a person who has meant much to us, who has said and done things that have impacted our lives.

Sometimes, to be quite honest, those feelings are distinctly shallow, such as when we feel moved by the death of a character in a film or TV series, yet we have become involved with them in our watching and we sense loss when they die. At other times we bottle up our feelings because we feel that if we let it all out, our pain and sense of loss will go on and on and on. I can only imagine the loss of the one who is closest to you. I dread the thought of my wife dying before me because I love her so much and I can’t imagine what it could be like to live without her, yet perhaps you are in that very situation where there is still a deep ache at the emptiness that you know because the one you loved so much has gone.

Putting it like that, makes me think of those of us who have lost a loved one because they have walked out on us. That is even worse than if they died because the sense of loss is also polluted with the sense of rejection and abandonment and that does indeed make it worse. That also is a time to mourn for it is the death of a relationship and it may have been, from your side, a good relationship right up to the end. And then it abruptly ended as they confessed there was someone else and they were leaving you for them. Devastation!  In a case like this, and in the case of a premature and abrupt death, it is made worse and the sense of mourning is made worse, by the speed and abruptness of it.

Perhaps it was an illness and they were told, “I’m sorry you only have weeks to live.” The speed of it made it so much worse. Or perhaps they didn’t come home and the first you knew was when the police arrived and told you of the accident. Death of a loved one, in whatever form it comes, is shocking. It is the sense that they just won’t be there with you any longer that is the devastating thing. You turn to say a word, but they are not there, and you mourn. Mourning isn’t something that just happens at the funeral. It is something that, for many of us, goes on for a much longer time. How do we cope?

Paul described God as, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Cor 1:3,4)  God understands and as we turn to Him, in some way beyond explanation, He does comfort us. Somehow His grace flows and, although the ache is still there, we cope. It’s right to mourn for close loss. It’s right to cry. It’s right to feel loss and ache. There is a time to mourn. We’re not called to stiff-upper-lip stoicism. We are human beings with feelings and when there is love, there will be strong emotional feelings of loss when they are gone. It is right to mourn. There is a time to mourn.

We quoted the verse yesterday: weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psa30:5). There will be an end to the deep anguish, as God comforts us, we may still have the ache of loss, of being alone, but the deep anguish is no longer with us. The Victorians, I believe, had a set period for mourning and ladies would wear black during that time and it was only when they came to the end of that time could they be seen to join in wider company and be seen to be enjoying themselves. There was a sense that it was proper to sustain an appropriate period of solemnity to honour the lost one. We no longer do that and more often we try to encourage people to ‘move on in life’, recognizing that life has got to continue, but it’s a difficult thing.

Dancing is an expression of outward pleasure and even joy. There will come again a time when it is right to express and genuinely feel outward pleasure and joy. It is not disrespectful to the memory of our loved one. It’s just that we have to get on with life, and life with all its emotions. Dancing and joy are for times when there is an absence of sense of loss, an absence of anguish. You can’t be happy while the anguish is still there, but time and the Lord do bring healing so that we can laugh again.  Yes, as we’ve said in recent days, life is a kaleidoscope of events, circumstances and feelings, and they all have a right time.

You can’t laugh and dance when you are mourning, but mourning shouldn’t go on for ever. You shouldn’t mourn when it’s a time of happiness. We can’t mourn for someone else, or on their behalf. Mourning is what you feel. If you don’t feel the anguish of loss, don’t try and pretend.  Jesus knew this when he said, How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (Mt 9:15) While he was still with them, it was to be a time of rejoicing. When he had gone that could be the time of mourning.

Mourning can not only be the death of a person, but the death of a ministry, or the loss of something precious. When a great man falls morally, that is a time for mourning. When a great woman falls morally, that too is a time for mourning. It is right to feel anguish for the downfall of a great life, even when they are still alive. Feelings are a gift from God and they allow us to reflect the reality of life. Sometimes that will be joy, but sometimes, when there is a loss of life, that will be mourning. There is a time for mourning and a time for dancing, and they are not the same time! That’s what life is like; that’s how we are made.

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Compassion in Action

Readings in Luke Continued – No.27

Lk 7:11-13 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

To try to fathom out why God works in the way He does sometimes, seems an almost impossible task. To try to work out why the sin of this fallen world afflicts some and not others is, again, an impossible task. I take heart from the little incident in John 9:1-3: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Here were the disciples confronted by an effect of the fallen world in the form of this man born blind. They want to know why but Jesus refuses to blame the man’s parents and just says, “Let’s just take such things as opportunities for God to bless, and for God to be glorified.”

I say these things in the light of Luke’s account of this incident in the town of Nain in the southern half of Galilee. It is an account that none of the other Gospels mention, but it is obviously something that Luke heard about as he was researching for his Gospel and it clearly touched his heart. It is a simple account, of Jesus arriving at the town at the moment when a funeral procession comes out the city gates, presumably on the way to bury the body. Now, in the absence of any information to the contrary, we are going to have to assume that Jesus used what we now call a word of knowledge because he is moved by the circumstances here and no one seems to have told him what is going on – but it is very significant.

The body that is being taken for burial is of a son (child, or young man we don’t know) and, more than that, he is the only son of this family which makes it doubly hard. But it gets worse; this family has already lost the father. This family now only comprises one surviving member, the wife and mother who is now enduring her second funeral. But there is more. There is a large crowd with this woman. She is well known, popular. She is a good woman – but death takes no account of good people at times it seems.

It is these facts, we suggest, which moved Jesus to action. We are told, “his heart went out to her.” Again and again we find in the Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus was moved by ‘compassion’ (Mt 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 20:34). Luke uses the word compassion only once, in the parable of the prodigal son when the son comes back and we read, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son.” (Lk 15:20). It was compassion that moved the father in the story and compassion that moves The Father in respect of us. But here in our verses we have the same thing, compassion defined if you like – his heart went out to her.

We find in this, and in the other amazing verses about Jesus’ compassion, that we find ourselves with a God who is moved to action, not by logical deductions of the mind, but by emotions. God feels with us!

In the famous ‘shortest verse’ in John 11:35 when ‘Jesus wept‘ there is a sense in the original that this weeping was tinged with anger at the impact of sin, having taken his friend Lazarus prematurely. His tears were an acknowledgement of his feelings of anguish for this people and their loss because of the effects of sin in this fallen world. Could there have been another way, the Godhead would have surely thought of it, but free will was part of the design that made such things as ‘love’ meaningful, and the price was sin in the world and Calvary. Oh no, the Father doesn’t stand at a distance, He feels and He is moved.

Back prior to the Exodus we find the Lord speaking to Moses at the burning bush: “The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” Do you see that last part? God doesn’t only see and hear what goes on, He feels!

So here we have this account that moves Luke’s heart for he includes it when none of the others did. He’s a people person, we’ve said, and he’s moved by human drama and here is human drama at its best – or worst. It is a woman who has had the two men she loves snatched from her by death. Why didn’t Jesus save the husband as well, ask the unthinking sceptics? Because he wasn’t there and can’t be there (in human form) for every person. But he was here on this occasion and being God in human form, he can exercise his authority on the earth and bring back life – simply because he was moved by the situation. There is no wondering about why these tragedies had struck this family. There are no carping judgments about this family and ‘what they must have been up to to deserve this’!

No, the Son of God is simply moved by the woman’s plight and acts accordingly as we’ll see in the next meditation. He sees, he understands, he feels and he acts. You never have to twist God’s arm to understand your plight – He does! You’re not alone in your feelings – He feels with you. That is the wonder of the God with whom we have to do. This IS God. Yes, there are no doubt many other questions we could fire into discussions about evil in the world but they’re dealt with elsewhere. Here we simply pause and wonder at the fact that our Lord and Saviour feels for us and with us. Let’s be grateful.