Egg salad sandwiches, funeral potatoes, scalloped potatoes and ham! These are just a few of the spread that we sometimes see; depending on the culture at a luncheon after a funeral. It is also often the foods that are sent home with the family members of the deceased. As a young child, I didn’t have much experience with death. My maternal grandfather died when I was in college (August 2004) and my maternal grandmother died in February of 2008.
As I have grown older, I have seen more and more death. Yet too many of these deaths have come before their time. A friend who was taken by cancer. Another friend who died in his sleep after, more than likely, of a massive heartache. Another teacher/mentor/friend taken by cancer. And another professor/friend who finally succumbed to death after living a good life.
Death is a part of the journey of life. It is all around us which is why the words we hear on Ash Wednesday are so powerful. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I will admit that as those ashes are placed on my head or as I place them on the heads of those near and dear to me, I have a hard time imagining that death might take them; whether by a freak accident, by cancer or another illness, or however their lives might end.
This week, we journey to the cross experiencing Jesus’ own crucifixion and death. I find myself wanting to grieve along with all of God’s people. I want to indulge in funeral food. I want to cry tears of grief and mourning. And in all honesty, I want to remember what this week is truly about; what Christ did for each and every one of us.
“For God so loved the world, God gave God’s only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. God did not send God’s Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might have life through him.” (John 3:16)
Although even in our grief, these moments of joyous celebration are now tinged with sadness because those we love who have passed away are no longer with us. Yet Easter morning still comes! Jesus is still resurrected from the grave, but he also bears the scars of the cross. We too bear the scars of grief and loss in our own lives and celebrate that ultimately death does not have the final word. Yet sometimes that is hard to see when death looks like winning. But that is the beauty of the theology of the cross. Knowing that, I can’t help but think and reflect on these profound words from Clarence W. Hall “Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won’t stay there.”
In other words, God ultimately wins. God is waiting to welcome each of us with arms wide open and declare “Well done good and faithful servants.” God is a God of hope who continually walks with us. And I will forever cling to that promise because I have seen it with my own eyes opened. As one of my seminary professors shared, our friend Ben’s funeral was one of the holiest moments of his life. I wholeheartedly agree.
Coming to the empty tomb, the image of hope and holiness and the promise of resurrection hope that I will carry with me to that empty tomb is the image of 80 plus of my friends/colleagues along with Ben’s wife Mara and daughter Elizabeth standing around Ben’s urn; arms linked with the person in front of us or beside us. It is the image that I will carry with me when the Lenten journey seems so very long. It is the image that I will lift up when I lose someone else dear to me. It is the image that will help me triumphantly declare “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Allelulia!”
It is the image of hope that reminds me again and again of who and whose we are. Jesus walks with us and promises to never leave us or forsake us. I believe that now more than ever. For 80 plus, a tangible cloud of witnesses will journey together and share stories of who this beloved child of God is with his daughter. But also a cloud of witnesses that will continually believe in the power of the resurrection not just today but every day of our lives on this earth.
Linking up with Kelly and the Ra Ra linkup, Jennifer and Tell His Story, Holley and Coffee for your Heart, and Kristin and Porch Stories.