Dear Members in Christ,
“Better to go to the house of mourning?” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)
In the book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher writes about the “house of mourning”.
“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.” Ecclesiastes 7:2.
The Preacher teaches that it is better to be at a place of mourning than it is to be in a place of celebration and joy. This seems to be contrary to the current sentiments in the world around us. Most people in the world want to avoid the mention of death or mourning. The idea of dying, of sorrow, runs contrary to the desires of an unbelieving heart. Let us learn this lesson from God’s word to help us in our spiritual walk, as well as to help us comfort others in their sorrow.
We often think about attending wakes or vigil services as our service to offer comfort for the grieving. While this is true, the Bible tells us that it is also good for our souls, for we are reminded of the things of great eternal value.
A conscious choice to go to the house of mourning
What is this house of mourning? This is a reference to a funerary rite or a place where the family or friends mourn for their departed loved ones. In ancient times, the people follow a simple funerary rite. Unlike the practice these days where a corpse is embalmed and “lie in state” for several days, the ancient people bury their dead as soonest possible, often on the same day. The burial of the Lord Jesus in Luke 23:53-55 is an example, where the body is prepared and laid in the grave on the same day the Lord died on the cross. Thereafter, the loved ones of the deceased will undergo a period of mourning, there they will be visited by friends and loved ones offering words of comfort and prayers. This is the “house of mourning” mentioned by the writer of Ecclesiastes.
Going to the house of mourning is a conscious choice. Just as going to a house of celebration is a conscious choice. Why is it better to go to the house of mourning? The Preacher answers this by the concluding phrase “…for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.” Ecclesiastes 7:2b.
The reason is first, in our mortal bodies, death is inevitable and it is unavoidable. The person going to the house of mourning is reminded that “that is the end of all men.” Beloved, how we all need the constant reminder that our mortal life on earth is like a vapor. We are literally “here today, gone tomorrow.” However good our state of health, whatever length of days the Lord bestow us, we shall all have to come to reckon with the death of our physical bodies.
Secondly, a visit to the house of mourning will cause “the living will lay it to his heart.” The phrase “lay it to his heart” conveys the meaning of paying close attention. It is a reminder to us that life is more than just this temporal sojourn on earth. While God’s wrath and death will come upon every unsaved sinner, the believer is reminded that the Bible teaches us about God’s grace and mercy towards us. God through the atonement of His beloved Son our Lord Jesus has given us a way to know the joy of forgiveness of sins and the glory of eternal life.
Let this be on our minds, not to neglect those who are mourning, let us be ready to go to the house of mourning. As the word of God teaches us, “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” Ecclesiastes 7:3. Although the pandemic has put a constrain on physical attendance at vigil services, there are other means by which we can offer comfort. Thus, the Bible says we remind ourselves of the brevity of this life, that we may lay it to heart.
It is foolishness to seek mirth and temporal happiness
The Preacher goes on to teach that it is wise to be in the house of mourning and that fools would choose to go rather to a place of celebration and mirth. He says, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Ecclesiastes 7:4.
There are many reasons why some Christians choose not to attend wakes or vigil services. The measures to curb the pandemic are certainly a valid reason. If the pandemic regulations ease, and it is permissible – the conscious choice of the Christian should be to visit the house of mourning. Until the curbs are lifted, we can resort to electronic means to send condolences and messages of comfort.
Even if the in-person gathering is not permitted, be reminded to pray for those who are grieving. Pray comfort for family members, and especially for unbelievers that God may grant an opportunity for the Gospel to be shared. The bible verse Ecclesiastes 7:4 teaches us that it is wise to be in the house of mourning, and the contrary is foolishness, that is, to seek to be in the house of mirth.
It is no sin to have a joyful or glad heart, so why does the Preacher teach that seeking mirth is foolish? The context here speaks of one who seeks mirth to mask and forget the brevity of life.
Whereas the Bible teaches us that the true child of God should set his eyes on things above, there is no better reminder for us that our lives are short as a disappearing vapor cloud. Therefore, it is wise to be soberly reminded in the “house of mourning” that someday, somehow, our earthly lives will cease. Thus we ought to be guided by God’s wisdom to spend our days in service for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. Amen.
Dn. Lim Seh Beng