The Sacredness and Wrongness of Christian Death

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A Christian’s death is such a wrong, but sacred thing. Life begins loudly, with groans, pain, a gasp, and a wail. But it doesn’t always end with such clamor. A life well-lived ends with sighs and closes with tears. The breathing slows. The heart stops. The believer opens their eyes to see their Savior for the first time. He no longer just tastes the sweetness of God’s presence; he feasts on it. She is never thirsty because Jesus has satisfied her forever. They no longer mourn, for their joy is complete. As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, everything sad is coming untrue. The former things have passed away.

But even in the sweetness, the regrets come. For the life-liver, they arrive before the eyes are shuttered, for its lovers, after. We are haunted by time that has passed irretrievably, attempting redemption of yesterday through tomorrow’s plans. We pray for forgiveness and try to begin again. But the time has ended for what we could have done. The time has come for what must be done. We must gather the remaining shards and resume living.

Every little thing becomes significant–loose change, junk mail, denture cream, slippers worn once, hangers covered in yarn, matchbox cars, cassette tapes, pacifiers, the smell of cigarettes and heavy cologne, outdated cans of food–as they carry our remembrances for us into boxes and donation bins and storage lockers. We remember how she rinsed her Ziploc bags out, how he carried a ridiculous jug of tea everywhere, how they always ate boxed mashed potatoes, and how she sealed her packages with horrendous blue tape. The small moments loom large–ominous, but healing. We hear their whispers in the quiet; we feel their absence in good company.

As the hospital door closes or the coroner leaves and we say goodbye to the one we loved, we also say hello to the ones who love us. They claim empathy and silently sit. They make soup, overwhelm us with flowers, want to comfort, and need comfort themselves. In the crowd are the helpers, the moochers, the pastors, the questioners, the angels, the demons. Some words help; some words steal. Well-intentions wound while quiet embraces bind up. The tears in a friend’s eyes reflect and settle our own. Relationships lost are enfolded in relationships found.

In both the immediacy of the moment and the quiet moments after, the heart screams, “This is not how it is meant to be!” and whispers fearfully, “Why?” The sweetest moments in life now have a bitter aftertaste. Fun seems like a sacrilege. Conversations seem haunted by their memory. How can someone so alive not be?

Resurrection Hope in Death

Then He answers kindly, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

A gasping prayer replies: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Today, we feel death’s wrongness. Sin has had its foul sway. Our joy weeps in his presence, and our happiness feels bittersweet. But the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it. Today, our whole world cries out for redemption in the rawness of loss. But in the beautiful tomorrow, we will know in full, even as God knows us. The small but sacred moment of death draws us nearer to tasting it–the infinite freshness of life everlasting–as the gospel promises: because we weep now, the joy will be sweeter still.

The Body of Christ cries out together: come quickly, Lord Jesus! Let the sacred death lose its dark tinge!

And it will. As our eyes close in death, they open to life everlasting. The promise is realized, because the blood and resurrection of Christ have opened the gate. He sits at the right hand of His Father–resting, ruling, and rejoicing. We see with flawless vision what we have seen with eyes of faith. This is the sacred of sacred; this is the holy of holies. What is wrong in death has been made right again. Jesus and we, His people, live.