The earliest Christians followed a Jewish tradition of pausing to pray, preferably together, first thing in the morning, about mid morning, at noon, about mid afternoon, and in the evening. “Just a Note” posts are brief observations made from Scripture readings not related to a lectionary. If I have one to post, it normally appears about 9:00 in the morning, at “the hour of prayer.”
Rituals of mourning are often very complex. There are some hints of this in John 11:28-31. Jesus has come to the home of his friend, Lazarus, and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Lazarus has died. Jesus remains outside of the village. He does not seem to want to be noticed, at least not too plainly. He would prefer to draw Mary and Martha out to him. After meeting Martha he sends word to Mary to come to the tomb.
The house is full of people who have come to comfort the family. The loss of a loved one is not a private matter, at least not in this culture. We notice that in verse 31 the people who have come to bring comfort follow Mary out to the tomb. They are not going to allow her to mourn alone, at least not now.
During at time of loss many of us have a very natural tendency to seek solitude. We want to be alone. We need to process the grief. We need some space to sort out our feelings. Yet there is some wisdom in the habit of the Jews. They gathered around the survivors. The grief of the family becomes the grief of the village, as well as the grief of all the visitors. Even as people shared in the joy of knowing Lazarus, they will share in the sorrow of his death.
How do we achieve this balance? We cannot deny that a bad thing has happened when a family member dies. Death is bad. It is the result of the sin of our first parents. It rips body and soul apart. There is nothing good about death except that it sets the stage for the resurrection, when death is reversed. Given a choice, I expect we would rather avoid the death and jump straight to resurrection.
There is wisdom in taking time for solitude, mourning, and contemplation. Yet there is also wisdom in gathering with family and friends to receive comfort. The funeral is not entirely for the living. It lays the dead to rest appropriately. But it is for the living in that it reminds the entire congregation of Jesus, who presents himself as the resurrection and the life. A right view of death and resurrection will bring us through even a difficult time of loss.
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