A couple weeks ago, we began a series of articles looking at what some of the churches in our area are doing to make a difference in the community. The Church is called not to offer random acts of kindness, but focused acts of kindness committed to demonstrate a Christ-like compassion for the world. As a Church, Christians are united — regardless of the denomination or church we attend — woven together like a tapestry, intricately designed like a body.
In fact, a body is one of the pictures that Paul uses to develop the relationship that we have within the church and with Christ. It is united and what impacts one part impacts the entire body. When one part hurts, the rest of the body feels the pain. Each Christian serves as one part of the body. We need one another; our actions impact other parts of the body. We reach out to each other, supporting one another, sometimes when it is the least expected and in ways we couldn’t imagine.
In addition, we are reminded of this connection often in the Bible. The 13th chapter of the gospel of John: “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13 HCSB).
There is probably not a time when we need the comfort of friends of faith more, then when we are suffering from the loss of a loved one.
When I become aware that a friend or family member is suffering a loss, I immediately think of the book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, “On Death and Dying.” The monumental work describes the way we face and approach death. It categorizes our responses into stages like denial and grief. Her book reminds me of an important truth: We don’t handle death well.
I suppose that shouldn’t surprise us. Death is a punishment. It came about as the result of sin. It separates us from ourselves and from each other. It distances us from our God. The Scripture describes death as our enemy. Death isn’t the only enemy for the believer. But Paul says it is our last enemy. Last, perhaps in the sense that it is the most formidable.
Death ends the circumstances with which we are most familiar. It changes our location. It alters our perspective. Death appears as an end because we cannot see beyond it. Death conquers its foes. It leaves behind a wake of loss, a symphony of sadness and a flood of tears.
Death steals our future. It paints a family portrait but leaves an empty chair at the table. It constructs a tower of “What if’s.”
Death is a common denominator that unites us all. Age. Gender. Ethnicity. Race. Riches. Poverty. Whatever our circumstance, whatever our lot in life, we will all sit in the front row of the funeral home at one time or another.
Death places us in the position of wondering why it had to be this way. Surely if God were here He wouldn’t have allowed it. Couldn’t He have stopped this from happening?
Mary and Martha felt that way. “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
We feel the same way, don’t we? Why didn’t you get here earlier? You could have done something.
But even a miracle would only delay the inevitable, until once again, death rears its ugly head. Until Calvary. Until a righteous Rabbi on a splintered cross. Until an empty tomb. Until a risen Savior.
And all of a sudden, death changes. Death loses its sting. It relinquishes its bite. It loosens its grip. Death now becomes our avenue, our gateway, our corridor. Death begins our eternity. Death makes real our hope.
If I understand what happened on the day that Christ rose from the grave, death died.
And today, you and I could visit cemeteries and look for the graves of all four of my grandparents, both my parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, Sharon (a teen-aged girl and the first funeral I ever officiated), friends, nephews, nieces, or soon my friend David, a man I never knew. We would be struck by seeing a man, relaxed, waiting, almost anticipating our arrival. He would be sitting on the headstone, glistening and radiant.
With a slight smile on his face, he whispers, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. She is not here. Never was. Never will be.”
Paul writes to Christians in Thessalonica and says, “My friends, we want you to understand how it will be for those followers who have already died. They you won’t grieve over them and be like people who don’t have any hope. We believe that Jesus died and was raised to life. We also believe that when God brings Jesus back, he will bring with him all who had faith in Jesus before they died” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 CEV).
My favorite passage about grieving and death comes from the Old Testament, and from the old paraphrase called The Living Bible. David writes, “His loved ones are very precious to him, and he does not lightly let them die. O Lord, you have freed me from my bonds, and I will serve you forever” (Psalm 116:15-16 TLB).
One of my favorite songs about heaven was co-written and sung by country-pop artist B.J. Thomas. Thomas became a Christian and released a handful of Christian albums. On his first, he recorded a song titled, “Home Where I Belong.” The words to the last verse encourage with “One day I’ll be sleeping When death knocks on my door. And I’ll wake to find that I’m not homesick any more. I’ll be home. Home where I belong.”
Therefore, comfort one another with these words.
— Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at email@example.com.