This past Saturday my family made a rather downcast trip to the cemetery to bury my grandfather-in-law. My daughter was full of thought provoking questions and I stumbled through the answers as honestly as I could. I had been planning on blogging about this conversation with my daughter but have decided to take a different course. My husband, his own mind full of thoughts brought on by Sofia’s line of questioning, so beautifully expressed himself in the following paragraphs, that I decided to share his words instead:
Terror truly beyond compare is by the mystery of death inspired; now the souls and the body part, disjoined by resistless might, and their concord is broken; and the bond of nature which made them live and grow as one, now by the command of God is rent in two. Wherefore we now implore Your aid; grant your servant now departed rest, where the just that are Yours abide, O Bestower of Life and Friend of man. -Ancient Christian Funeral Hymn
We are all born into a life that is under the power and shadow of death from the moment we draw our first breath. Honestly, this thought is terrifying. Death has the power over our lives, and someone who has power over death has power over life.
As a father of a young girl, I’m amazed at how quickly she picked up on the concept. When she was two, I was horrified as she and another young friend squealed in delight as they meted out death to any ants unfortunate enough to wander near their feet. Now, at three, she has a magic wand that she pretends to kill people with… not even old enough to read or have heard about Harry Potter, but already enchanted by Avada Kedavra. How can I teach her that we are made in the image of a life-creating God, and ours is to give life, not take it?
The modern approach to dealing with the ultimate terror is either to chase after youth and beauty to attempt to put off the inevitable without acknowledging it, or to deny the horror by white-washing it in some Disney nonsense about the circle of life. The ancient world, I am given to understand, had a similar outlook. Then along came a band of Galilean fishermen who turned the world upside down by proclaiming a message that Death is trampled down by the death of a man named Jesus, and by this man’s resurrection Life is given to those in the tombs. These men didn’t sugar coat the terror of death, but proclaimed with joy that it has been defeated, and the Church continues to do likewise.
The gospels contain the stories of life and teaching of this God-man Jesus. Some of the stories that have most captivated my daughter are stories of death and resurrection. Jesus raised the little girl from the dead. Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. Jesus, after being beaten and crucified rose from the dead on the third day. “Was he dead? Did he die?” were questions she asked me over and over again as we read the Easter story, and she kept asking me to read “Jesus died on the cross”. Although I’m not sure she “gets it”, she knows that death is something big and powerful, and the story of the resurrection is significant.
My grandfather recently reposed in the Lord. Yesterday, we buried his ashes in the cemetery. How do you explain to a three year old about cremation? About what a funeral is all about? My beloved wife took the time to talk to her, to tell her that this inurnment was another part of the funeral. Sofia’s response (oh how I wish I could have heard it with my own ears!) brought a tear to my eye: “the part when he comes back to life?”.
My first response would have been to say no, that he’s dead. But then I caught myself. My daughter, after three short years of attending Sunday School and reading a children’s Bible, knows the Gospel, the Good News, better than I do. People who are with Jesus don’t stay dead. And so, in a first lesson in eschatology, Heather explained that Great Grandpa would come back to life when Jesus returns, and that He would give him a new body. I got her to help me first sprinkle then shovel some dirt into the grave. Later, as I tried to get her to stop using headstones as stepping stones, we explained that under each one was someone who had died, and that Jesus would raise them all to life when he returned. We didn’t sugar-coat it, but we did our best to explain the hope we have because of our risen Lord.
How much of yesterday’s events did she get? She kept asking where Aunt Shirley’s bag was (the urn having been shrouded in a lovely satin bag), so I’m not sure she understood we buried it there, expecting it to sit unmoved until the end of this age. But I still suspect she gets the gospel better than I do, which could be why Christ said “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I think that the words of the Scriptures that are read in the service are for me, for my little faith, in order to remind me of what Sofia seems to believe so easily already.
“I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
“Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality; then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Thank you Steve for sharing your beautiful and life-giving words.