When my mother-in-law died, she died suddenly and unexpectedly. We all were very raw with a myriad of emotions. I remember going to the grocery store the same day she died (because we needed something very logical but annoying like toilet paper) and I was so angry. I was angry that she died but I was also angry that the entire rest of the world was going on with their lives. Didn’t they know that this world had lost a bright light? I wanted to stand in the middle of the grocery store and yell for them to stop, pay attention, mourn, or anything. But instead, they were all going about their daily business, as people do when they are in the grocery store. And perhaps if you have lost someone you love you can relate to how I felt. I was mourning and so I wanted the entire universe to mourn with me. It was as if I wanted her life to matter to the entire world as much as it meant to me. And part of my grief over the days following her death was reconciling the fact that it’s not that the rest of the world didn’t care, it’s that that particular death didn’t matter to the world. It mattered to my world.
Maybe that’s how Mary felt when she threw herself onto Jesus’ feet. “Lord, if you had been here….” she starts out by saying. And with those 6 words, we start to glimpse the mourning that Mary is already doing over her brother Lazarus. I think sometimes we are quick to usher people through mourning. We don’t like watching other people grieve and be in pain. So, we offer words of condolences or we offer food. Anything to comfort the people who are grieving (or what we think as comfort). And instead of offering hollow statements, Jesus asks to see the deceased Lazarus and weeps himself. And isn’t that what we all kind of want in one way or another? We want people to cry with us. We want people to know our pain; not in a weird, uncomfortable way, but in a way that says “I understand your love for this person.”
As we mark All Saints day today, maybe that’s the best we can hope for. We can hope that people pause for a moment, no matter how brief, and remember how much our dearly departed were loved. How much they are still loved! It doesn’t matter if your loved one has been gone for just a few months, or it’s been years, you still love them. And what a gift it would be for someone else to recognize that as well! Because the truth is this: death is awful and terrible and it stinks (in our story today, it literally stinks). Even if your loved one had been ill for sometime and death, in a weird way, was welcomed, it is still terrible and awful. Someone we love is no longer physically with us and the pain of that loss is very real. At the same time, death is also part of our reality.
We all will die at some time. There’s no reason to tip-toe around this fact. Yet, many people are scared of death. It’s not like we can run from death. And at times, when death happens, it can be so painful that we just want to blame other people, especially God. How many times might we have been tempted to cry out “Lord, if you had only been here….” And how many times do we think “if I could just have one more moment….” Can you imagine if we were given the same opportunity as Mary? What would you do if just by calling their name our loved one, Jesus was able to bring back our loved ones? But the fact remains that death is harsh. It’s cruel. It’s painful. It stinks. And remember that Lazarus was not resurrected, but resuscitated. There’s a difference. Lazarus will die all over again.
And so what are we to do? We recognize the loss of our loved ones. We will pause and remember them. There also seems to be a fear that somehow, we will forget about those who have passed. But that won’t happen. But it is to us, as Christians, to speak the truth about death. Death is very painful. Death is very real. Death causes great anger, heartache, and suffering. Even when death is the answer to prayer, our hearts break and we weap and mourn. And for Christians, we must also speak another truth about death: it’s not the end. We can’t skip over death, but we have confidence that it is not the end. As I’ve said before, we cannot be Easter people without being Good Friday people as well.
Our hope is not on the things of this world. Our hope is in Christ Jesus and him crucified, buried, and resurrected. The Bible says that “heaven and earth will pass away” but Jesus’ words will not (see Mark 13:31 and/or Luke 21:33). Jesus promises us that whoever believes in him shall not die. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. (see John 11:25) We will all die a physical death. But, when Jesus comes again, we will all be resurrected and reunited with those who have gone before us. Do I know this for sure? No. But, God does not break God’s promises and the promise we have is that of Jesus. In Revelation, we are promised that “[God] will wipe every tear” from our eyes. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (21:4)
I could go on and on quoting Bible verses about death and what happens when Jesus comes again. That doesn’t change the fact that we are here and our loved ones are not. But, we take comfort in the resurrection promise. We take comfort in knowing that when we come up here to receive wine and bread, it is a foretaste of the feast to come. We take comfort in knowing that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. And most of all, we take comfort in knowing that, thanks to the cross, death will never, ever be the final word.