Last week, I attended the funeral of my aunt. Obviously, these are almost always somber affairs. Death is something that I don’t believe any of us are comfortable with, even though it is a regular part of all our lives. As I sat there in the church pew awaiting the service to begin, I watched a heartbreaking scene unfold. My uncle stood in front of the coffin, stroking the arm of his wife, and saying his final goodbye.
My arm was draped around the shoulders of my fiancé. I felt a juxtaposition in my heart. I am at the precipice of what will be my married life. We are full of hope and optimism for what God has in store for us for the rest of our lives. My heart sunk as I watched a husband of fifty-five years looking at his beloved. His marriage vows had been fulfilled. My thoughts began to race about how I never want to live a moment without Jess. How much stronger must those feelings be after five and a half decades? My mind was filled with the collision of new life and death.
As sad and sobering as death can be, it does not have the final say for those who believe in Christ. Yes, it will always be painstakingly difficult to not have our loved ones in our lives anymore. However, we are promised that death is not our end. In fact, it is the beginning of the life that we most desire— eternal life in the presence of our Heavenly Father. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 (quoting Hosea 13:14), “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, death, is your victory? Where, death, is your sting?” We may all pass on from this world, but we will never truly die; we just move on to our next, final stage of our eternal life.
As I discussed at the funeral with my mom and dad, I don’t know how it is that people without faith have hope in such situations. If when someone stares into a casket, confronted with the stark reality of death, and he or she believes that is final, how tragic that must be. For the Christian, on the other hand, this is but a fleeting moment. While we may be hard-pressed, we are not crushed (2 Corinthians 4:8). We have a promise that Heaven, our true home, is awaiting us on the other side. There, our father is ready to throw his arms around his child and celebrate our ultimate homecoming.
We must hold on to these hopes. Without them, the hardships of this world are too much to bear. While I believe that evangelism these days is too heavenly focused and not enough emphasis is put on the abundant life that we are promised in the here and now, living forever in the place where there are no more tears, mourning, or pain (Revelation 21:4) is still a vital part of our faith. Knowing that the funeral is not the last time that we will see a fellow believer should be of the utmost encouragement to us. As the old adage goes, “For the Christian, there is no goodbye, only see you later.”
The shutting of the coffin does not signify the end of our relationship with those who have fallen asleep in Christ. They are now awake and alive, more so than ever, running on the streets of gold. They are feasting together with the great cloud of witnesses. They are face-to-face with their savior. All that they have hoped for is now where they reside. They now see with faith and not sight. Oh, the sites that they must see! Quite frankly, we should be envious.
Death stinks: there is no arguing that. The moment of a final goodbye is always painful, but we are a people of hope. Our hope is that there is more for us than this. Our hope is that they are far better off than they ever were here on Earth. Our hope is that we will one day get to be with them again. Most of all, our hope is that through Christ’s death and resurrection, we will get to spend forever in the immediate proximity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are a people of hope; even death can’t take that away from us.
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