Death Be Not Proud

I just got word today that my cousin Sissy, 40 years old, died unexpectedly. Our large family is pretty shaken and startled by this news, and another cousin wrote and asked me to “splain” it. I thought it might we worthwhile to share her questions and my response:

Her question:

Ok Bishop, splain Sissy’s death that makes sense. Splain any death that will help my hurting heart for these almost 4 years since my husband died. Not the “oh he was sick” or “God needed them more than we do” or He needed another beautiful rose” these are foolish things we say and to the grieving–they mean nothing! If I used the word crap ever, I could surely use it here!!!! Can you help your cuz with this? like ASAP

My response:

Dear [Cousin]:

I’m so saddened to hear about Sissy. If there’s any way I can, I’m going to drive down for the funeral. I have a conference I have to leave for on Thursday or Friday, so if it’s before that I’ll go to Louisiana first.

In response to your request that I help “splain” Sissy’s death, first let me say that you are TOTALLY correct in calling those silly platitudes “crap”. I HATE it when I hear preachers say that kind of thing at funeral or to grieving families. “God needed another angel” – use a stronger word than crap if you dare! God doesn’t “need” anything! And if he wants another angel he can speak one into existence out of nothing – and for that matter, humans don’t become angels when they die. That kind of syrupy silliness is ridiculous, and doesn’t offer any comfort anyway.

The first thing that needs to be understood about death is this: it is our ENEMY. It is GOD’S enemy! Death (and sickness, and all the other bad stuff in the world) comes as a result of the fall of man – St. Paul says that death entered the world through a single man (Adam), and so through a single man (Jesus) death is abolished (Romans 5.12-19).

So we say, “Yippee! Death is abolished in Christ!” But we still die (and we still suffer, and we still deal with the consequences of the fall). So, God has placed “all things” under redeemed man’s feet, “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” (Hebrews 2.8). “BUT WE SEE JESUS…” So far, there has been one man, Jesus (fully God of his Father, and fully man of his mother) who has conquered everything, including the “final enemy” – death (1 Corinthians 15.26).

Where does this leave us today? It leaves us all in an “already/not yet” state. Death has ALREADY been conquered (in the person of Jesus), but not yet (for each of us). Sin has already been crushed (by Jesus), but not yet (by us). We have to realize that our story isn’t finished – we haven’t been “completed” – we, as born again believers, still live in a fallen world and still suffer the consequences of Adam’s choice. Again, “But we see Jesus” – what has happened to him WILL happen to us on the last day (1 Corinthians 15 – the whole chapter). And so, the “blessed hope” (which, by the way, is NOT “the rapture”) is what we all look forward to: the RESURRECTION from the dead. The promise of God’s word is that WE TOO shall put on immortality just as Christ did. We too shall burst forth out of the grave. When Christ returns and makes all things new, we, IN OUR BODIES shall see our Redeemer.

Which brings me to this: as a pastor, comforting those who grieve, I cannot say, “Oh this is just God’s plan.” Death is NOT God’s plan. And although the death of the saints is precious in his eyes (Psalm 116.15; precious in his eyes not because death is good, but because death is conquered in Christ and is not the “end” for those who have faith in him), death is still an enemy which we continue to fight, to hate, to struggle against, and from which we are promised complete victory on the Last Day.

How do I comfort the grieving? First I tell them death is bad and isn’t God’s idea. Second I tell them that the story isn’t over – we turn our eyes toward the promise of the future, a promise secured for us in the Resurrection of Jesus (when a dead man got up and walked out of the grave, not to die again like Lazarus or Jarius’ daughter, but when a dead man CONQUERED death as the first among many who will do the same at his return).

To use the words of the ancient liturgy, “And even at the grave our song shall always be, ‘Alleluia, Alleluia”! The last thing that happens at a liturgical funeral is the pastor says, at the graveside, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” and the people respond, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”. Even at the funeral, we don’t give death the final word; we proclaim the victory of Christ.

To sum the whole thing up: death is God’s enemy (and any enemy of God is an enemy of ours). We still fight against all the enemies of God (sin, suffering, sickness, evil, death). Death is the FINAL enemy to be destroyed (which implies all his other enemies will be destroyed BEFORE death is destroyed – so we are engaged in a great spiritual battle for the whole of our lives). But we are promised victory in the end. We are promised the resurrection of our BODIES, and we are promised a re-making (literally, a “refurbishing) of the heavens and the earth, and we shall dwell eternally in resurrected bodies in this new creation (which has already begun in Jesus).

If we do not have this hope, Paul says, “we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15.19). But we DO have this hope, guaranteed in our “older brother”, the Son of God.

Here, and now, we grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We DO HAVE HOPE! We look for the coming of the Lord and the “restoration of ALL THINGS” (Acts 3.19ff).

So I grieve for Sissy, and you grieve for the loss of your husband. No sweet platitudes about “God needed them more than we do”. No, death is a bad thing and it is grievous. But this is only one chapter in our story, and the story is not finished yet. And when the story IS finished, we will find that it is not the end of the tale, but only the end of the first chapter – in the resurrection from the death our story really just gets started.

I don’t know if this helps, or if it answers any questions, but I hope it at least gives food for thought, and helps put the whole thing in perspective.

Much love in this time of pain,

Ken

Published in: on August 27, 2010 at 7:44 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very thought provoking, and beautifully put. Thank you, Your Grace!

    Clairessa

  2. Nicely put.

  3. Ken, you and your family are in our prayers. Thank you for sharing this word of Hope and comfort.

  4. Love this post! There are so many things to say about this subject. In our lives we also identify with the sufferings of Christ through our own sufferings, carry our own cross, and have our own crucifixion (death), before our bodies are resurrected eternally. We become ‘imitators of Christ,’ and in the end (or beginning) are brought into unity with the Holy Trinity. Good words, kind sir.

  5. Thank you for your wonderful insights. In a couple of weeks I will be doing a memorial service in Western New York for the father of one of my high school classmates. This will be an inspiration for me to share with the family.

  6. This is beautiful, Ken. It would be nice to write this up another way, leaving off the cousin part and making pretty copies of it to share with many different people at their times of grief.
    So very good…………
    Mom

  7. Your Grace,

    Great word and I will use this soon on my wife side of the family if I may.

    A Simple Man Called to Serve His People
    Rev. Andrew

  8. As one who has only recently concluded a review of “A Grief Observed,” by C.S. Lewis, with comments all through on my experience, I appreciate this truth as you have stated it here, Your Grace. It is supposed to hurt, because we are meant to be together, in communion with one another and with God. And when death breaks our communion with one another, it cannot touch our communion with Him! The depth of our love it the depth to which it hurts. And there is a way through, but it is not easy. It never is. This is perhaps too brief to make much sense, but thanks for the wisdom and you sharing it with us. Our prayers are with you and your family at this time of loss and always. Dcn. Mathew – a sinner.


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