Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?" She said to him, "Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world." John 11:17-27
Most of us who’ve been around for more than a couple decades have experienced the death of a loved one. I remember when a close family friend died while I was in high school.
"Uncle" Ed was only in his 40's, a tough looking, bearded guy with a jolly sense of humor. I remember the day he called my mom, a seasoned ICU nurse, with some unusual symptoms. My stomach felt uneasy as I overheard my mother tell Ed he needed medical attention as soon as possible.
My sisters and I would only see Ed a couple more times after that call. Once, just before he was admitted for a bone marrow transplant to treat the rare disease attacking his body. He was wearing his regular clothes and looked like the Ed we always knew.
The second time was in the hospital after his transplant. He looked weak and bald, and that scared me a bit. It was the day before prom, and mom urged me and my twin sister to tell him about the prom dresses we designed. Ed listened to our descriptions as if our dresses were the most important topic in the world. A few weeks later, I got a phone call from my mom telling me Ed passed away.
One of the saddest aspects of Ed's untimely death was that he never fulfilled his long-held dream to marry and have children of his own. That stuck with me. But another thing that stuck with me was Ed's memorial service. I was not a Christian, and to my surprise, Ed's Lutheran funeral was filled with one story after another describing his devotion to Christ and his lengthy trips into the mission fields. Ed's death played an instrumental role in bringing me to faith in Christ a few years later.
I know many of you have similar stories. Life was going along swimmingly, and suddenly the phone rang and nothing was ever the same. I also know many of you have encouraging stories of how God worked through the death of someone in a special way.
Some of the most encouraging reflections on death and eternity I've read can be found in a book published by former hospice nurse, Trudy Harris, titled Glimpses of Heaven (Revell, 2008). Harris collected stories of her dying patients to offer comfort to those who have experienced loss, and also to share the profound spiritual insights she has gleaned from those getting ready to pass into heaven. Having observed God's tender care for her patients time and again, Harris says, "Those who have allowed themselves the luxury of being present with patients as they are dying come away realizing in a whole new way that there is only one Divine Physician, and it is He alone who sets the timetables of our lives."
While death is always a tragedy, Harris confirms what Christianity teaches – that even death has merit when doused with God's grace. Harris writes that many of her patients could sense – even see -- God's presence in ways most of us can't right now. She notes her patients, who endured painful illness, were anxious to give hope, comfort, and wisdom to the living before they passed on. Some even died with so much grace, they wore a gentle smile.
Of course, we can look to our Savior, who did not avoid death even when He could have, to see two truths: God works through the dying process to draw each of us closer to Him, and death – no matter how horrible - does not have the final word.
While it can be difficult for those of us here to bear the weight of losing a loved one, like Martha we can find peace in knowing God does not abandon us or our loved ones even in the darkest moments of death. And while we don't yet have the privilege of seeing God in all His glory, we can faithfully entrust our futures and the futures of our loved ones' to the merciful love of Christ.
While many of our loved ones are not famous Saints like Augustine or Aquinas, they are just as precious to us and to God. Nov. 2 is the Feast of All Souls – the day when Christians officially remember all who have gone before us, like Ed. Thank God for the blessings of the time you had with your loved ones, and perform some little act of kindness in their memory.
Sarah Phillips, Crosswalk.com’s Family Editor, embraced faith in Christ at an unlikely phase in her life: as a skeptical undergraduate at Virginia Tech. She now enjoys putting her VT English degree to use at the Salem Web Network by observing and reflecting on cultural trends, marriage, family life, and the human condition through the lens of Christianity. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband, Corey.