Monday, May 23, 2005

Laughter and Tears

I officiated at a Memorial Service this morning. The gentleman who died has been declining from lung cancer for some time. He was one of those rare individuals that didn't allow personal piety to get in the way of his faith. He smoked almost up to the end of his life. He cussed like a sailor. He was filled with regret over failed marriages. And in the end, he died a peaceful death because of the simple belief that Jesus embraced him along with all the baggage he carried with him.

I am always startled by the stark contrast between those who understand this "embrace" of Christ and those who don't. And while I know I'm treading on very thin ground here, I suspect that there is an inverse relationship between the intensity of the loss and grief that one experiences and the depth of one's trust in the embracing love of Christ. The louder the crying, the greater the hopelessness. And because tears have more to do with our own sense of loss and hopelessness, an attentive pastor can always tell the condition of those who gather by the extent of their tears.

Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) suggests that there is a time for tears and a time for laughter. And while it is appropriate for tears to accompany our grief when someone we love dies, it seems to me that it is equally important for laughter to fill the room every time we remember that if it weren't for the embrace of Christ, whether one cusses up a storm or prays in King James English doesn't matter a hill of beans. In the end, we stand on the threshold of a very simple choice that can make all the difference in the world and will determine whether or not there will be laughter or crying after we take our last breath.

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