My family and I squeezed into a packed church this past Saturday afternoon to celebrate with a crowd of people as together we witnessed the son of a dear friend embark on a new life with his brand-new bride. In stark contrast, only two hours later, we filed into a second church with a different group of people to mourn the passing of another precious friend from this life into the arms of Jesus. The juxtaposition of the two events was emotionally jarring…the celebration of a joined life beginning … followed by the tangible realization that another life had ended. At first, they seemed diametrically opposed to each other, but the more I considered it, the more I decided that they weren’t as contrasting as I initially thought.
You know, it’s natural to embrace and celebrate the milestones that remind us of life’s joys. Birthdays, weddings, and other new beginnings lend spice and variety to our years, but no matter how loudly or how often we celebrate, there’s always an unwelcome specter lurking in the shadows, threatening to tighten its icy fingers around every one of us. And nothing brings the certainty of death into the open more keenly than the passing of someone close to you… especially when that person is in what’s usually considered to be the prime of life.
We are not in Eden any more.
They gnaw and tear at us at every turn. We cannot escape their brutal reign in this world.
Perhaps this cold reality is one of the reasons that Jesus chose one of the most beautiful celebrations in all of life to describe His relationship with His followers. He portrayed us (His church) as the beautifully adorned bride waiting expectantly for her beloved bridegroom. (Rev. 19:6-9; 21:20) In an unflawed love story, this perfect Groom expresses selfless love for His bride by giving Himself so that she might live. She responds joyfully by yielding herself in devoted love to Him.
It frames a magnificent picture of the Gospel and the hope that you and I have as believers. But to be clear, this kind of hope isn’t the same as the fleeting feelings of euphoria that usually accompany a positive belief that things will just “turn out” the way we desire (because they often don’t). Instead, this assurance is based on a solid and immovable promise of God, who has given us “new birth” through “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3). We can hold to this promise as reliable because it’s centered on the person of Jesus Christ and not wishful human thinking, and as such, this “living hope” can carry us through the deepest darkest moments and offers us inextinguishable light, even while standing in the disorienting mist of shadow of death.
It’s natural that we grieve over the loss and destruction that exists in our world. We weep for the way things should be, but aren’t. But in the midst of sadness, our faith carries us along toward the day of satisfaction when all things will be made right.
So, for now, we rest in the confidant pledge that God “has rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.” (Col. 1:13-14) Our faith in His grace has established us into a new relationship as “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Rom 8:17)
Yes, it’s OK to mourn deeply for the separation that death brings, but even as the ache lingers, make it a point to pause and listen. You just might hear the faint chime of wedding bells in the distance, as the angel of the Lord beckons us toward Christ with the certain promise that … Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:9)