This post continues a series of reflections on death. Read the first one here.
You know that thing no one talks about? The taboo which is politely removed from conversation? That thing that haunts the darkened corners of your mind like a ghost in a Louisiana mansion?
I once watched an Australian film in which two prisoners were sentenced to death by firing squad. On the eve of their execution, one writes a letter to his beloved which opens, “Tomorrow I am going to find out the grand secret.”
And it is a secret. A mystery left primarily to plague the minds of theologians and morticians because no one else wishes to get the hands of their minds dirty with such unpleasant thoughts.
Death. And what follows.
Tonight I sat in Chick-Fil-A choking up as my parents told me about a man who took his own life last week. He sat on a park bench and shot himself. His body was discovered by a jogger. My dad did the funeral, and despite the protest of the man’s wife, he preached the gospel.
“When it comes to death, you have three options,” he explained to me in the fast food franchise. “You can avoid thinking about it with distractions and endless entertainment; you can try to fight it with plastic surgery, money, and anything else that promises to give your life youth, or the third option…”
“Listen to someone who has died and come back to tell about it.”
“Like that kid who went to heaven and back?” I joked. He chuckled but we both understood what he was saying.
N.D. Wilson wrote, “Do not fear the shadowy places. You will never be the first one there. Another went ahead and down until He came out the other side.”
One man has descended to the depths of sheol and returned to tell us. One man descended from His place on high to tell us what it’s like.
One man has disclosed The Grand Secret.
Jesus said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”
My mom cut in to tell me that the funeral was unlike any she had attended before. She described the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room that day, as my father eulogized to the primarily secular attendees about this Man from heaven. This God-man who hates death so much He underwent it, that it would be destroyed once and for all.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”
Then my mom told me that the next day was Sunday and several of the families from the funeral returned to my father’s church to learn more about this carpenter from Israel. That guy hanging on a tree, beaten to a pulpy collection of tendons, most of his skin ripped from him.
I explained to my high schoolers this past weekend that when we think of life and death, we should think about them in relational terms. Those who are most truly alive are known by God, while those who are dead are those cut off from Him. Depart from me, He says, for I never knew you.
It’s not about belief or doing just the right number of good deeds; it’s about knowing the Holy and being known by Him. And those who don’t want to know Him, those who hate Him, don’t have to spend all of eternity with Him. They will depart from Him, and it will be their own choice.
There is a weight to conversations about death. You can talk about celebrities, post offices, and sauerkraut and make jokes the whole time. But when your friend tells you their mom died from cancer last month, the conversation suddenly sinks to a richer depth. There is weight in death, and with this weight comes opportunity.
What better place is there to preach hope than a funeral?
As my dad also said at the ceremony, ‘the statistics on death are pretty good…just about everyone dies.’
So, are you looking for hope? Are you looking for the answer behind The Grand Secret? Or do you prefer ignorance? Do you prefer broken relationship with the Creator of life and the Destroyer of death?
Christians die expectantly. We die with the excitement to someday pop up from the ground and walk this earth again. Our burial plots are nothing more than what a toaster is to a slice of bread: A place to be shoved down for a few minutes and later emerge enriched, improved and completed.
I once wrote about a man who was in a car accident. As he sat in his driver’s seat awaiting death, a pedestrian who witnessed the accident ran to his window and talked to him. He was with the victim for his last minutes on earth. The witness later talked about how much peace the man had on his face as he slipped out of his broken body.
The pedestrian later showed up at my pastor’s office, terrified because he realized that if he were to die that day, he would not have that same peace about his departure.
He was terrified of death.
But O, how we have hope!
Where, O death is your sting? Where, O grave is your victory?
One day every one of you reading these words will be dead. I will be dead. The question is, are we going to walk out of the grave again, or will we stay in the earth while everything around us springs back to life?
The other day I was on a plane thinking about death and began writing my epitaph on the drink napkin. What I came up with was,
Only laughter, never weeping
for I have only laid my head.
I am not gone, I’m only sleeping
until the resurrection of the dead.
Have you thought about your own death? Is it with hope and peace that you approach your final day, or is it with fear and anxiety?
May we be people who embrace death because we know the One who has been there before. May we have peace because He took death into Himself, destroying it once and for all. And may we have hope because Jesus walked out of His grave so that one day, we will too.