I’ve been thinking about death again lately. Not morbidly – just because it has touched my life more often in the last few years than in all the years beforehand.
This week, though, I’m thinking about death because the mother of an old friend passed away suddenly after a short, severe battle with cancer. Her youngest son (of five) is still in high school.
And that reminds me of my father’s lost battle with cancer, very suddenly after having been in remission, less than four years ago. He died shortly before my wedding, while my own brother was still in high school. It took me many months to recover to the point where I wanted to pick back up and move into the future. There isn’t a day that goes by – still – that I don’t have that itch to call him and tell him about something that happened in my day. His presence is still so palpable. It’s uncanny.
Of course things are different now then they were then. I can watch movies with military burials (as his was) without having to turn away, and our holidays have started to grow into a new normal.
But when I found out this week, some of those things hurt more intensely than they have in a while. My mother, who lives in my hometown still, has been going to the services, and I can only imagine how much more it must hurt for her. We all know where they are now, pain free and in the presence of the Savir – and yet, and yet.
I finished reading N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope not long ago, and found myself desperately wishing I’d had it by my side when I was in the midst of planning my Dad’s funeral. Wright points out how nebulous and wishy-washy our conception of what actually happens after death really is. Even recently, reading the lyrics to an old hymn, I realized that our concept of life after death is often just flying away to live with Jesus in the clouds. We Christians understand death inadequately, and in many cases, just wrong.
Wright preaches the great hope of the resurrection – not some merely spiritual event, but a true, full restoration of the earth to its pre-fall glory, with the work of the church as part of the new Jerusalem – a garden city. That Christ’s resurrection was merely God folding into the already what has not yet happened – a foretaste, the firstfruits, a hope of what is to come.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
(I Corinthians 15:20-22)
Steeped in creation-fall-redemption-restoration theology, I know all this, and yet I’d never though of it in the context of death. I am not only holding out the hope of seeing Dad, and Cindy, and all the saints who have passed before us someday in heaven in some disembodied state. They rest with Christ now, but that is not the end. I will see them here, in a body that will be perfected, doing work that is fulfilling and glorious, rejoicing and living as we were created to rejoice and live, in a renewed creation.
And in that, we that weep may also rejoice.