Do you know that as a citizen of the United States of America, you are currently living in the first death-free generation? You are probably thinking, “What does that mean?” Right now there are five generations living at the same time. Due to all of the medical advancements, we are living much longer than ever before. We believe that we have total control over our health and that death can be delayed as long as we wish. We have convinced ourselves that death is optional if we eat the right foods, exercise, and have regular checkups. We are convinced that if we are unlucky enough to have a devastating diagnosis, there will be a treatment for it and we will be cured. If we aren’t cured, we are shocked that medicine couldn’t make us well and we feel let down by the medical community.
In years past, death was as normal as birth. Today, death seems to surprise us. Years ago, attending funerals was expected, it was a normal part of life. Most children had attended several funerals by the time they reached the age of ten. Today, however, the average person doesn’t experience a funeral until they are well into their forties.
The odds are that if you have only experienced maybe two funerals in your life and they weren’t for someone you deeply loved, you most likely don’t understand the significance of a meaningful funeral. A meaningful funeral encompasses remembering the person who died by telling their story, giving thanks for their life and the impact it had on this world and in the lives of those who loved them. It is a foundational step in acknowledging what has happened and moving into the new reality of life without the person you deeply love. A meaningful funeral allows people to publicly come alongside the grieving person as a support while acknowledging that a transition is taking place. A funeral is a safe place to display grief in a world that disdains displays of emotion. The funeral ceremony is the rite of passage and also a ceremony of new beginnings. It is the public acknowledgment that a life has ended and now there will be a new beginning of living life without the physical presence of someone who was deeply loved.
Ceremony and rituals are crucial, but our Western culture has bought into the false idea that they don’t matter. Part of the reason we have bought into this lie and moved away from rituals and ceremony is that we have moved away from God. Pew Research data shows that “About a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) now say they think of themselves as spiritual but not religious, up 8 percentage points in five years, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted between April 25 and June 4 of this year. This growth has been broad-based: It has occurred among men and women; whites, blacks and Hispanics; people of many different ages and education levels; and among Republicans and Democrats.” Who makes up this rapidly rising, “spiritual but not religious” segment of American adults? According to Pew “Many in the “spiritual but not religious” category have low levels of religious observance, saying they seldom or never attend religious services (49%, compared with 33% of the general public) and that religion is “not too” or “not at all” important in their lives ”More Americans Now Say They’re Spiritual and Not Religious
It is God Who came up with the idea of having ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations. He has always used these events to teach us important lessons. He knows how forgetful humans tend to be, so He instituted special ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations to help us remember and give us hope for the future. A prime example is happening this week.
Starting on October 4th at sundown and ending the evening of October 11th, people of the Jewish faith will be celebrating Sukkot, also known as the “Festival of Tabernacles” and the “Feast of Booths.” It is one of Judaism’s three central pilgrimage festivals, along with Passover and Shavuot.
Sukkot is a beautiful celebration of the harvest and remembrance of how God delivered the Nation of Israel out of slavery from Egypt. “For seven days and nights, we eat all our meals in the sukkah and otherwise regard it as our home.” Located under the open sky, the sukkah is made up of at least three walls and a roof of unprocessed natural vegetation—typically bamboo, pine boughs or palm branches.
According to rabbinic tradition, these flimsy sukkot represent the huts in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt. “The name Chag HaSukkot commemorates the temporary dwellings God made to shelter our ancestors on their way out of Egypt (some say this refers to the miraculous clouds of glory that shielded us from the desert sun, while others say it refers to the tents in which they dwelled for their 40-year trek through the Sinai desert).” What is a Sukkot.
We have much to learn from this Jewish festival. There is a valuable lesson concerning the importance of celebrating God’s goodness in our lives. Our idea of blessing, protection, and deliverance is usually very different than what God’s plan is for our lives. The path the Israelites took to escape bondage was a forty-year trek that should have only taken eleven days. God used forty years to teach the Nation of Israel repentance and obedience. The festival of Sukkot is a memorial of giving thanks to God for His provision and care in their lives. Jews will tell you that it is their Season of Joy. Hebrew 4 Christians
The Hebrew word for feasts means appointed times. God has appointed the exact timing and sequence of His seven feasts in the Old Testament to tell us His plan for the world, which is fulfilled in the New Testament in Jesus Christ.
So, you see, there is valid reasoning why we should embrace holding meaningful funerals that include ceremony, rituals and yes, celebration. God has shown us the importance of taking the time to experience ceremony, rituals, and celebration. He designed these things for our benefit; to heal, and make us whole again. It may seem counter-intuitive to allow yourself to publicly go through the process, thinking that it will do more harm than good. But that is not the case. When a funeral is done correctly it will allow for the telling of your loved one’s story. It will allow friends and family to come alongside you to give you support. It will allow you to give thanks for your loved one’s life and the impact it had on your life. Finally, if the funeral is done well, it will help you, your family and your friends to acknowledge that life has now changed and a new chapter is beginning. When a funeral is done well, it will help you move forward while still remembering the past with hope for the future.
Written by: Diann Anderson