Having recently returned from our annual vacation at the beach with my family, I am basking in its beauty. One of my favorite memories from this week is the surprising delight of watching monarch butterflies migrate over the beach heading South for the winter. They flew constantly, in groups of 10-12 at a time, in a constant parade through the dunes. I am feeling restored and refreshed from time with family with whom we can both laugh freely and converse deeply. And just in time, as only days after our return, a beloved sister in Christ from our church passed away to glory after a long battle with cancer. Seth and I both had the privilege of walking alongside her during this journey towards Home, and it has changed us. Reminds us of how very close we each are to eternity, and of how full of suffering this side of heaven can be. Her memorial service will be the second I’ll attend in a month, the first being that of my sister-in-law’s father who also passed away after a battle with cancer. It is sobering and causes one to reflect on life, its endings and beginnings. Death even when “expected” is always a shock. It feels so wrong, because it is. It is not part of the original plan for Glory.
Death tarnishes humanity, casts its long shadow of fear over life. But we have a God who conquers it, in whom we can rejoice even in grief. How do you walk alongside someone who is literally in the valley of the shadow of death? (Psalm 23) Or with those whose lives now are shadowed by the grief of a loved one’s death? You walk with them. You listen; you learn; realizing that there is much to be found in these times of mourning. Ecclesiastes points to that:
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:2)
And you hold out hope with them in the midst of grief. Not in a shallow Pollyanna-rose-colored-glasses-this-isn’t-that-bad kind of way, but in a deep way rooted in the hope of the One who also hates death. The One who hated it so much that He sacrificed His own Son to destroy it – through His own death and then victory through His resurrection. We have hope that all who believe in Christ by faith will live again in the place where there are no tears, no pain, no brokenness. We have hope that we will see the One face-to-face we have only known by faith on this side of heaven. We have hope that in the midst of deep grief and mourning, there is One who meets us there – one who uses these very places to open up our own souls to more of His love, to know more of His comfort.
For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:5)
The hope doesn’t take away the tears, nor should it. It doesn’t answer the questions; it’s not meant to. But it gives peace and courage amidst the pain and the questions. I have seen that in my sister-in-law and her family. We are already experiencing that in our church family here too. I want to learn more of that. This is the Glory hidden here now: it weaves through life, mixing joy and sorrow, grief and hope.