“But at the side of a saint there’s rejoicing…”
I’d heard the song before but at this funeral, I was asked to sing it. This seasoned saint in Jesus lived a long life and we were celebrating her home going. At the words to this song, it really struck me: the difference between the funerals of Christians and non-Christians is startling. This song captured that difference profoundly well. Here’s verse three and the chorus:
There’s a room filled with sad ashened faces
Without hope death has wrapped them in gloom
But at the side of a saint there’s rejoicing
For life can’t be sealed in a tomb
And the old rugged cross made the difference
In a life bound for heartache and defeat
I will praise Him forever and ever
For the cross made the difference for me 1
We know we’re all going to die. We don’t talk about it often but there’s a bit of “injustice” to it. We fight against it. We struggle for life. We see doctors and do all we can to prolong our lives. And we fight against the injustice of death.
Humans have been struggling with this since the beginning. In our ongoing series in Ecclesiastes, we turn our attention to Ecclesiastes 9:1-2 as we read the wise reflections of Scripture.
1 So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. 2 All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them.
Ecclesiastes 9:1-2, NIV
There are times in Ecclesiastes we get reminded of the rhetorical device the author often uses. Here is a classic example. The Teacher is coming at life from a very pragmatic perspective and doesn’t exclusively mention God because he’s looking at life through the lens of an unbeliever in order to prove God’s existence.
King Solomon, the wisest person to ever live, expressed the reality we understand all too well: all humans have an appointment with death (Hebrews 9:27). We can’t change the appointment—no delays, reschedules, or cancellations. The date and time are set and we’re making that appointment on time.
Woody Allen once allegedly quipped, “I’m not afraid to die; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” That sums up well how most of us feel. But of course, we will all be there when we die. And that’s the problem.
Where Solomon is going in this section (that we’ll be looking at over the next few weeks) is surprising. While many followers of Jesus wince at conversations of evil’s existence in a world with a good God ruling it (called “theodicy”), the wise Teacher of Israel turns this in a direction we’re not expecting.
The seeming injustices in the world—certainly death is the greatest injustice of all!—are used by Solomon as proof of God’s control in the world. Whether we are “loved” or “hated” (descriptions of God’s favor or disfavor), the King of the Universe is in absolute control over the ultimate slap in the face of humanity: death.
The call of these two verses is to rest in the control of God over the sting of death. For a Christian, the sting of our (physical) death has been removed by Jesus Christ and death is a doorway for us to enter the rest promised to us (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).
At the side of a saint who goes home there is joy through the tears. We know they are going home. And as Christians, we know our parting is temporary. We know death was defeated by the cross and empty tomb of Jesus and we see joy.
As Christians, we should have no fear of death—the sting has been removed! Our lives are in His hands. In His hands, we are brought all the way through the dark doorway of the final injustice: death.
1. “The Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference” Words and Music by Gloria Gaither and William J. Gaither. © 1970 William J. Gaither, Inc. (Admin. by Gaither Copyright Management). CCLI License # 313703