This past month I got news from my Momma that my uncle was dying. Although he had been battling cancer for the past ten years, the news was a shock all the same. I will admit that I am not close with this uncle, but family is family. The loss still struck. I wasn’t surprised by the news, I knew it was coming. I knew Alan had reached a place where he was needing constant medical care. It was only a matter of time. Where it now stood, the doctors had given him less than 24 hours to live. I had accepted the fact that he was dying, but when I heard his life expectancy, I was convicted that my faith was weak in my acceptance. I could almost hear Jesus telling me, “It doesn’t have to end this way.” What broke my heart most was that I had no idea where Alan was at with Jesus. I realized that fact should grieve me more than the loss of his life, tragic though it may be. It would count for nothing at the loss of his soul.
Now I realize that even as I write this, there is an internal struggle with this concept.Who are we to define where a person is at with Jesus and what will happen to their soul? It almost has become a trite Christian expression that gives us license to “play God” and judge others. Please hear me out here, I am not saying that a person’s soul doesn’t matter. The soul is of infinite worth, that of which we cannot fathom. But what happens to that soul is between God and that individual. Perhaps the notions of purgatory that C.S. Lewis brings to the table in The Great Divorce are correct. Who knows? Nonetheless, I spent much of the afternoon praying for my uncle and listening to worship music on my iPhone. I had asked a few close friends for prayer on his behalf, and on behalf of his family. One suggested taking communion as a symbolic act of claiming his life for Jesus, in addition to revoking Death’s rights. Judge me if you will, but I am the epitome of a nerd when it comes to symbolism. I figured, what’s the harm?
It was in the breaking of the bread and contemplating what each of the emblems represents, that I was struck with profound peace. Communion is a representation of the Cross and what Christ suffered and sacrificed for our sake. Easter was that same weekend and therefore got me thinking even more about the Cross. Along with that, I could not help but think of Jesus’ resurrection. If God had put it on my heart to pray, I trust that He had a reason and was going to do something through it. That next morning I got the final news regarding Alan. The cancer had gotten to be too much for him and he couldn’t fight any longer. He had passed just as the doctors predicted.
The week following the news, I wrestled with guilt in not being closer with my family. I first I didn’t want to attend the funeral because there was just too much I had to get done that weekend. Besides, I haven’t exactly been around his family past few years so it shouldn’t matter right? I didn’t go to my Grandpa’s funeral a couple summers ago either. This was mostly due to the fact that I was overseas at the time and did not have contact with my family until the day of the funeral after it was over. Part of that was also because once again, I wasn’t close with Grandpa either. This fact made me feel guilty for not wanting to go. That in turn, led me to feeling guilty for not grieving either of their deaths more. I had wrestled with these thoughts the most during that week. Through a couple conversations with close friends, I came to several conclusions. The first being that every reason I had for guilt was selfish. This funeral was not about me and my uncomfortableness. Death is never convenient. Most importantly, this funeral was an opportunity to be a support and strength for those who felt they had none during this time. It was a place that I could love my family, most of whom know religion but have never met Jesus. (See PigTale for further explanation).
The funeral was held the Saturday before Resurrection Sunday. There is something truly profound about mourning the death of a loved one, when the next day you celebrate the fact that Christ conquered death and Hell and rose from His own grave. As I stood there at the graveside, watching the casket being lowered into the ground, Christ’s words written in John 19:30 resounded in my head. “It is finished.”
There is such finality to death. When the casket is lowered and swallowed up into the earth, when the stone is rolled over the tomb, there is nothing that speaks of the definitive quite like that moment. There at the funeral, listening to stories and memories, there were many that made us weep. There were also many that made us laugh and reminded us of what matters in life. I can only imagine Mary and the disciples gathered after the crucifixion doing the same. My uncle has left a legacy behind through his three children, his beautiful wife, and the lives of all those surrounding him as he was laid to rest. Each person in attendance that day represented someone that knew him, that loved him and were touched by him. In the three years of Christ’s ministry, He left an even greater legacy. It’s truly hard to fathom the magnitude of that.
I think it’s easy for us as Christians to regard the story of Christ’s resurrection as sort of a fairytale, although we may never actually admit to that. We’ve heard the stories over and over again, and perhaps they have lost their luster. Perhaps the wonder of the fact that Our Savior was marred beyond recognition, stabbed in His side through His heart so that blood and water poured out of His body, and laid in a tomb has evaded us. Perhaps the ideas of immortality and being raised from the dead are something we equate with zombies, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror movies. I will be the first to admit that the truth of Christ’s resurrection is something that, although accepted as part of my belief in Jesus, the reality of that hope was watered down, at best.
Standing there that morning, the day before Easter, watching the grave swallow that casket, the glorious weight of that hope we have through the Resurrection came with the finality of our goodbyes. Yes, it is finished. But our Savior, Lord and King has kicked Death’s ass once and for all, so that we too might live in the victory of the Resurrection and be united again in His Kingdom! Friends, THIS! This is the blessed hope we have in Jesus. This is what we rejoice in that today and always, for without this hope, our faith will remain incomplete.
"DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O GRAVE, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" 1 Corinthians 15:5