Monday, September 12, 2011

Love and Death

On the already sobering anniversary of 9/11, I received a text message in the early hours of the morning. morning. It read that a young man in our church had suffered a sudden aneurysm, that he was in hospital and in critical care. An hour later, another pastor informed me that the young man had passed away.

He was 13 years old. His older brother is in my small group.

How do you keep going on with one's day? How can that not affect the rest of one's emotional state? It certainly altered what I had expected as I gathered our high school students and informed them to be praying for the grieving family. I made some phone calls, prayed dozens of prayers, and found myself suddenly weeping into the steering wheel of my car as I drove home from our church gathering. Why did this beautiful person have to die? How can this family go on? What could I possibly say or do to even offer a semblance of help and support, apart from my presence and prayer? I can't fix this.

A few hours later, I drove back to church for our monthly communion service. (I play the drums for the worship band at this service, so it's a special delight for me). As we prepared and prayed, God stirred up something in my heart: this entire service, this act of communion, was to remember Jesus's death. And not just to remember, but to celebrate.

To celebrate death as an act of worship? What kind of morbid practice is this? Yet the bread and the cup represent a sacrifice that offers you and me new life in Christ. It's important to remember Jesus's death, but equally important to remember that He didn't stay dead. Paradoxically, the greatest love is found in death. As John wrote in my favorite New Testament verse:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Rick McKinley writes this in This Beautiful Mess about death:
But no one dies in the kingdom of God. It is in the kingdom of Satan, our enemy, where death reigns. A pastor friend of mine told me that as he was preparing for a funeral once, he decided to go through the Gospels to see how Jesus dealt with funerals. What he discovered was that Jesus did not care much for them. Every one He went to He raised the person from the dead. Jesus doesn't do funerals, not even His own.
I grieve with this family, but we still cling to the hope that Christ offers. In the kingdom of heaven, God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away. Amen.

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