There’s something profoundly wrong about death. It rips apart, ends, and destroys in ways that we were never meant to experience. Eternal life was our original design – life unending in a context of perfection – day after day without disease, despair or death. But that all ended at the fall. Since then, most of us have experienced death’s sting.
For some, recent weeks have brought the loss of an elderly relative or friend, someone who has slipped away after many years walking with the Lord. For others, this year has seen the heartbreak of losing a longed-for child – a young life called away, it feels, far too soon. For still others, the past months or years have held the trauma of a violent death or suicide that simply makes no sense to those left behind. And, if we look at our own experiences and those of our friends – our churches – we can see that many kinds of relationships lie behind that grief and loss. Maybe death has taken someone who has lavished you with love – maybe it has taken someone you love but who has showered you with pain. Human relationships are complex in every way.
In all those losses – and many others besides – a cry can well up deep within our souls: How long, O Lord? Will death keep winning? Will its power continue to take away? Will the grief never end? And in the legacy of death’s devastation, it is right that this Easter we cry. There’s no set time or place but the grief is real and letting the tears flow is to be like Christ. It’s right that we rail against death’s power too. Anger is more than just a phase in the journey of grief, it’s an appropriate response to an enemy (in the short term, at least). There may be many other responses besides: jealousy, despair, betrayal, confusion, trust, comfort – to name but a few. And we can pour them all out before the Lord who enables us to draw near.
But this Easter, whatever the complexity of our loss, let us also remember hope.
As Jesus hung in agony on the cross – as he rose triumphant from the grave – as he ascended weeks later to heaven to rule in power, our relationship with death changed. And it will never be the same again.
- Death defeated
Sometimes it feels as if death has stolen life, but death is no longer the end. For those who are in Christ, perfection returns. Jesus defeated death – he opened the way to eternal life. Those who follow their Shepherd through the hardships and endings of this world will reach the heavenly banquet, the victory feast, in the next. What joy is there for those who persevere: their pain and tears will go and never return. And, one day, so will ours.
- Grief comforted
Sometimes it feels as if the pain of loss will never cease. But after Jesus ascended, he sent his Spirit to dwell in those who believe. Whoever we have lost, however that loss occurred, whatever their standing with the Lord, we can know comfort. God’s love is ever-present, his everlasting arms rock solid beneath those for whom he cares. As the emotions flow and the questions tumble, he is our strength and the rock to whom we can always turn for help.
- Justice accomplished
Sometimes it feels as if losses at the hands of others will never be put right. But, in his perfect justice, God assures us that sin will not be left unaddressed. Jesus’ work on the cross is the basis of judgement to come. If someone we love has been lost through the evil or irresponsible acts of others, there will be justice in the next life, even if it eludes us in this one.
- The power of sin broken
Sometimes it feels as if the power of those we have lost still reaches out and keeps us trapped. Their words still define us – their actions hold us back. But, after Jesus’ sacrificial work, the powers of this world were crushed. If the person who has died caused us great harm, we can know the grip of their sin has no hold on us anymore. Those cords have been broken. We are not defined by what they did. We can be free! And we can live in increasing freedom, day by day, as the truth of defeated power is applied to our lives.
- Death faced with confidence
Sometimes the loss of others causes us to face our own mortality and that brings fear. Death is in our future, unless Jesus returns, but we are not alone. It is something we can face with our Shepherd. We follow him. And, because of Jesus, we do so confident that there is no such thing as an unhappy ending for those who are in Christ. There are many rooms waiting for us in the life to come.
Death is a horror- an enemy – that feels as if it can overwhelm. But at that first Easter, the death and resurrection of our innocent Saviour brought so much good. The pain of grief cannot – or should not – be minimised. The grieving process cannot be rushed. But this Easter – whoever we have lost, whatever our experience of grief – let us also remember hope.
The one who conquers brings it in abundance. And there is light as we remember:
He is risen!