A dear friend of mine passed into the arms of Our Lord yesterday afternoon. I had been at his bedside in the morning, held his warm hand as he slept, prayed for him, and prayed for family members. He had been home from the hospital less than twenty-four hours when he passed. It was a shock to my system when I got the word early last evening. The joy of being at a birthday party with my grandchildren turned to sorrow for me as my mobile phone chirped and announced the incoming broadcast email.
While Scripture indicates that two people have, indeed, not suffered physical death, Enoch and Elijah, all other available evidence tells us that we can all expect to die one day. Some are quick to say that death is a natural part of life. Sometimes hearing that gets translated in our minds as, “He died; get over it; move on.” As Christians we take comfort that we will be in the arms of Jesus when our bodies fail, as my friend is, and at some future point we will have new, immortal bodies in God’s eternal Kingdom. Sometimes that can be heard as, “Death was merciful. They’re not suffering and instead in a better place. Rejoice.” This comment does not abate the sense of loss and fragility. Life continues for those left behind but it is changed. People mean well by saying these things, and the Christian perspective is more than comforting. But I still grieve for my friend. We grieve when someone we know well dies. The closer our lives are entwined with the person the more we grieve.
Grieving is a healing mechanism God has built into us to properly heal the wounds of real loss. The grieving process is to our mental and spiritual restoration as our natural repair processes are to our bodies, the healing of a wound for example. Praise God for our tears of grief because they are a testament to our interconnectedness, our true caring for one another.
Scripture tells us that death came into the world through sin, and sin entered through the weakness and disobedience of one man who succumbed to the wiles of the serpent, Satan. Death became normative for human beings, but I believe that it is not normal in the initial plan God had for his Kingdom. God has always wanted his people to believe in him, obey him, and love him above all else. But he knows that the pull of “Idol World” is very great. Only a portion of the seed falls on fertile soil. So instead of eliminating death by the death of Jesus Christ his Son, God destroyed the taste of death for those who believe and obey. By that belief we are no longer to have a fear of death. This was certainly true of the believers in the early church. St. Ignatius of Antioch is an example. He welcomed death, which he suffered at Rome having been fed to lions, holding the hope for a far better life after this one.
Those that loved my friend feared his death would come too soon; it would leave a big hole in our hearts where his animated connection to it lived. But we know by faith that he did not taste death. As he lay still in his bed and his body passed from life to death his spirit passed from life to life, life constrained to life eternal with God, in a kingdom of unlimited grace. Thank you Dear Jesus for your life, death, resurrection, and your Spirit with us. Thank you for the life of my friend who enriched mine for a time all too short.