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The Problem with Happy Funerals

Many funerals today are not about mourning death but a “celebration of life.” As our culture discards all-black attire and other formalities of a traditional funeral, families create more personalized—and often more up-beat—experiences to honor the deceased.

The BBC has reported on the trend of “happy funerals,” noting that Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” had become the UK’s most popular song played at memorial services—replacing Verdi’s Requiem.

After celebratory memorial services, we are encouraged to “move on,” comforted by memories and knowing that the person we’ve lost is no longer in pain. But this positive focus can afflict and baffle people deep in grief.

As Daily Mail columnist Bel Mooney wrote, “Even though modern, cheerful funerals can be hugely touching and beautiful, a part of me wonders whether they show how petrified people are of death, and of the long agony of bereavement.”

Jesus, the One who sustains every life, was not immune to the ravages of death. In John 11, Jesus learns that his friend Lazarus has died. He goes to his grieving friends and does what anyone would do: he cries.

Jesus knew that while death is not the final word for the deceased believer, it brings a full range of heartache to those left behind. Jesus’ response shows us that the gospel promise does not exempt us from sadness over death. Death is real, it is sad, and Jesus himself felt it.

We can grieve over this, while also recognizing the hope of a resurrected body for all of us who cling to the Jesus who perfectly did both. This same Jesus who wept over the reality of death sent blood rushing back through the cold veins of his dead friend—and promises to give us new life too. Death is imminent, but Sunday is coming.

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