The sting of grieving tears are still fresh in my eyes this morning. The image of my mother dressed all in black, standing and weeping over the body of her own mama, still burns in my mind, as it probably always will.
A week before my grandmother passed away, I had the joy of seeing her here in the land of the living. She sewed thirteen teeny quilts for my daughter’s toy ponies and worked on sudoku puzzles and told me a hundred times how lucky I am for the babies that God has entrusted to me. Then she was on a ventilator with medical beeps and IV drips, and then she was gone from this life. Her body cold and bruised, and what to do here but sob violent tears? Death is the worst.
One of the worst days I ever remember in my career as a nurse was walking the long tiled corridor with a friend, in our scrubs, wheeling three tiny bassinets to the postmortem room. Twins and another baby, vital signs monitored until they were no more. We stood in silence for a long time, tears suspended from our eyes, and my soul screamed, “This is not ok.” But eventually we left three lifeless baby bodies alone in the cold when they should have been alive in their mama’s arms. Death is the worst.
What do we make of this awful reality? Where do I go after I hang my black dress back in the closet? The only place I can find real life in the first place, to the One who conquered death itself.
Jesus wept after the death of his friend Lazarus. He stood at the cave tomb and took in the reek of His friend’s decaying body. He prayed in agony before facing His own death. Our Rescuer is not far off from our human experience. He knows our pain personally. Jesus is a man acquainted with many sorrows. We do not stand alone at the gravesite.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our human weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,” Hebrews 4:15.
These points of bitter ending also give me a glimpse into understanding where I was before the Holy Spirit breathed new life into me. Lest I become proud and think I only needed a round of antibiotics for some minor sickness of sin, a quick injection of salvation, oh no. I was dead in the grave. Juxtaposed to the new life we can receive by faith in Jesus Christ, the cross is all the more precious to me.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life,” John 5:24.
Finally, the bizarre and wonderful future we have in Christ to be raised again in bodily form when the resurrection happens. It is so odd to say, in the faith we have in Jesus, that one day He will come riding back on a white horse and trumpet announcements and a cry of command.
“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18
I often wonder what exactly this will look like as scripture gives plenty for us to believe specifically, but plenty of details are also left to wonder. Sometime close to when my sweet grandma had passed into eternity, our family found ourselves in this chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
“Everywhere the statues were coming to life. The courtyard looked no longer like a museum, but a zoo. Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing around him till he was almost hidden in the crowd. Instead of all that deadly white courtyard was now a blaze of colors; …and instead of the deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings … shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter,” describes Aslan breathing life back into the stone corpses of animals in Narnia, undoing death itself. I wonder if C.S. Lewis, brilliant a writer as he was, could conceive such a beautiful picture of life returning in only words and with only book characters – surely the real thing will be infinitely more amazing to watch.
I still cry when I sing the last verses of hymns about death. I still ache to ask my grandma how to prune my tomatoes. I still caught the breath in my throat when I found her handwriting in a birthday card. I miss hearing her say my name when she answered the phone. I wish I got happy updates from the families who lost their babies. I wish they were growing and starting school these years. I wish their names brought joy instead of re-breaking gutted hearts in their mamas and daddies. I hate everything about death.
But I also hear the words Jesus spoke at the tomb of Lazarus. I read them aloud in the darkened hospital room so the silence of death wasn’t so deafening. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he lives, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” Luke 11:25-27.
I will not stop the tears of grief when they come again, and they will, but I will cry in the presence of Jesus who knows sadness, Jesus who saved me from death, and Jesus who is Himself the victory over death itself.