Sunday, August 10, 2014

Grief and Hope

In the past few weeks I have attended three funerals.

Two lives long lived, one life cut short.

And I have been wrestling with grief and the way it has invaded my days. Words I heard preached a few weeks before rattle around in my head, "There is nothing natural about death. It is not the way God intended."

God is a life-giver, not a life-taker.

And I have read, and heard it said that grief takes on many forms. For me it is a gnawing in my soul, a gut wrenching pain that still churns with the passage of time. It comes in the form of panic at night, and despair in the day. It comes with deep sadness one moment, and indifference the next. It plays tricks with my heart and makes me bite-y and short tempered, then mellow and reflective.

It throws balance out the window, a giant see-saw of emotions, none to be reconciled.

One emotion I did not anticipate, or recognize when it first came, was guilt.

The funeral that most held my heart was the first of the three, a remembrance of a life long lived, the death of my grandmother. Followed soon after by the death of an old friend who was only twenty four. Tragic. Devastating. Abrupt.

And so many people have comforted me with these words, "At least your she lived a long full life." "I know it is hard, but be thankful that she had so much time with you all."

They are right of course. She did live a long full life. She did have so much time with all of us. She did go quickly and painlessly compared to many.

And so wrapping tightly around my grief is this other emotion, this burden of guilt. The thought, "what right do I have to grieve the loss of a life long lived, when in a house across town, they are grieving the loss of a life cut short?"

And then I remember the preachers words, "There is nothing natural about death."

No matter how old, no matter how young, death steals, plunders, destroys. It leaves sadness in its wake, despair to deep to shake.

And if that were the end of the story I'd be doomed.

But it's not. Thank God it's not.

Because of another word that holds so much weight, and that is hope. Eloquently defined by the priest at the final funeral, "the expectation of what has already been promised."

Death wasn't God's plan, His design, His doing. It was a consequence of our actions, our rebellion against our Maker. And yet because of His great love for us, He stepped in and rewrote the story again. Changing the ending to one of promise, one of hope, one of Life.

He dies the ultimate death, so the death we experience on this earth is only a shadow of the real thing. He takes the sting out and gives us beauty for our ashes. He holds us while we grieve, while reminding us of His promises to us.

That although death is tragic in it's many forms, in the young and old, in the sick and well, in the best of circumstances and in the worst, it is not the end, for those who are in Christ, it is just the beginning.

So I will let me heart grieve, all the while praying away the guilt, exchanging it for hope... the expectation of what has already been promised.

"I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 

1 Corinthians 15:50-56

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."
John 10:10

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