After some experiences in life, you can never be the same: graduating from school, experiencing a major injury or illness; getting married, having a child, getting divorced; getting a major promotion, relocating to another part of the country, losing a job.
Experiences– good and bad– can leave a lasting imprint on our lives. They can figure into almost every choice we make, every situation we encounter.
In matters of faith, however, we often move on to other things too quickly.
I invite you to linger at the empty tomb. To experience Easter. The empty tomb promises the full life we crave. The view from the empty tomb can transform how we view everything if we take time to understand and apply it to our lives. In my next few blogs, we’ll explore some of the ways Jesus’ resurrection changes how we view death, our lives, God, and each other.
Seven Funerals in Seven Years
Back to life-changing experiences: One such experience — or more properly set of experiences—that deeply changed my outlook on life was attending the funerals of my relatives when I was a young student. The first was the death of my Gramma Rumford when I was in sixth grade. I attended six additional funerals as I lost three grandparents, three aunts, and an uncle in the seven years from my sixth through twelfth grades. To this day the smell of certain flowers takes me immediately to memories of funeral homes.
I learned early on that death comes.
At my first funeral, I remember being uncertain what to do at the open-casket viewing (that was standard practice in those days) of Gramma Rumford who died at age 69 from cancer. Though it sounds macabre, I found myself staring at Gramma, expecting to see her eyelids flicker, looking for faint signs of breathing. I was puzzled by how death looked so much like sleep. I almost expected someone to say, “We were wrong! Look, your Gramma is alive!”
Impossible, of course. The wishful thinking of a child.
But wishful thinking can arise from the seeds of faith. Such was the case, not only on that first Easter, but with the account of Lazarus. The raising of Lazarus (John 11) helps us understand the implications of Jesus defeating death.
Jesus’ resurrection means we can never look at death in the same way.
The shortest verse in the Bible proclaims one of the greatest messages of the incarnation, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Jesus entered into our suffering. He grieved the heartache of his dear friend, Lazarus, feeling death’s cold hand close around him. He grieved the unspeakable ache of the family’s pain at their loss. Jesus grieved for all humanity subjected to the power of sin and death.
And perhaps Jesus wept the first of his Gethsemane tears…
But grief was not the last word.
Jesus told Martha, Lazarus’ sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25). Jesus’ words apply not only to the future, but to our present experience of life and death.
Eternal life starts now
Death has been defeated as the ultimate enemy. Death is not the end of the road. It is the exit ramp to a new way. We don’t dismiss the pain and struggle. We do, however, draw strength by looking beyond them.
We weep, like Jesus. We grieve. And we keep perspective.
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3 NIV).
Professor Leon Morris writes, “The moment a [person] puts their trust in Christ they begin to experience that life of the age to come which cannot be touched by death.”
Three days before posting this blog, we lost a dear friend and member of our congregation to COVID-19. My heart aches for his family and for all of us who loved and respected him. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). He has crossed the chasm of death on the bridge of the cross to Life Everlasting. And by faith, we will join him one day.
I draw great strength from the Good News the Apostle Paul proclaims in that great chapter on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:
“‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:54-58 NIV)
As that final verse reminds us, Jesus’ victory over death also affects how we view every moment of every day—more on that in my next post.