Have you ever been to a "funeral" that they call a "celebration of life"? What did you hear there? What did you see? What follows is my own personal experience at a celebration of life.
It was not a celebration.
People were not happy, nor were they enjoying themselves. They were all faking it, saying words that they knew weren't true. Making up hope that they would never have believed only a few days prior. I heard five different renditions of where the deceased person was. They live on... "in our hearts" - "in our memories" - "when we do what they loved" - "in our love" and finally someone said -"No one can tell you where they are".
It was a disaster. Everyone suddenly became an expert in the afterlife, yet none of the speakers agreed. Everyone was grasping at straws, trying to say something that would give comfort to those still living. But the more speakers that stood up the less comforting it became, because it was blatantly obvious that everyone was just making it up. The hostess said at the end, "We are here so that you can make whatever meaning you can from this." In other words - You are ON YOUR OWN. It was the loneliest I have ever felt.
Because take a moment to consider some of these claims. "They live on in our hearts." Is this said because we know them? We know what they were like? What about when we die? Where are they then? What about when no one remembers them anymore? Quickly, what was the name of your great, great, great grandfather? What was he like? Does he live in your heart?
"They live in our memories." And when we forget? What about when we don't think of them? What about Alzheimer's? This statement is fluff.
"They live on when we do what they loved." The person has become our actions? Their spirit is in all that we do? So generations and generations of dead people live on in the behaviour of their descendants? More fluff.
"They live on in our love." I honestly, don't even know what this means - does this mean that when I love someone, it isn't just me loving them, it is all my ancestors, anyone I've known and all the people they knew, just piling up in the love of the next person who is alive? Folly.
And finally, "No one can tell you where they are." Why? Because you can't speaker? Has no one ever come back to life? Are we all doomed to despair because the one speaking is hopeless?
It was not a celebration - and it was not "of life."
As much as they tried to focus on life, we had only gathered because of death. Why didn't we celebrate the life while the person was still alive? So they could enjoy the celebration with us? Isn't that what birthdays are? Life is present. This dead person was not. It was not a celebration "of life". It was a gathering for death.
And here was the real scare. Every word that was spoken that day glorified the person. They were "my inspiration." They were "my savior." They were "the reason I love." It was a religious service alright - and the person being preached was the dead person. I witnessed a large group of people try to make a dead person into a god. No, this group of people had never been together before - not in one group - not when the deceased was alive - but now in death - god - the person was everything. It was a praise service to the dead person who "lived in our hearts."
I suppose one of the most incredible things that crossed my mind as I walked away from that experience was that people do everything they can to avoid real religion, real faith, and real beliefs - but in the end everyone is religious. It is only a question of which god.
This is what I wanted to say that day. This is what I had pent up within me, but knew was not the right time to come out:
This person had a Saviour, the same Saviour as the whole world, Jesus Christ. He alone can tell you where this person is because He is the only One who died and rose again. He came down from heaven to do this for you, and His death was a punishment for every evil of the whole world - those that you know of, and those in you that you don't know of or recognize. God sent His Son, and having conquered death, this Son reigns over the enemies of mankind. He is our King and our Lord, our Redeemer and our Saviour. He calls you to trust in Him, to believe this message and you will receive every benefit of His gracious work on the cross. Without such faith, you will remain in this lonely, empty, lostness that you are listening to, and it will result in your death.
Hear this Word. Turn to God. He forgives all your sin.