This past year has brought some significant encounters with death in my own life. Up until last year, my experiences with death were somewhat distanced. My maternal grandfather died before I was born, and while the shadow of his loss has affected me in a way, it has lacked the same personal sting that my mom and others carry with them. But I did lose another grandfather at the beginning of the year, my Grumpa. Though he lived a long and full life, his death is still so, so sad. He suffered at the end. Experiencing the loss of a close loved one, as well as witnessing other hard deaths in our church community over the past year, has stirred me to reflect on death, dying, and its significance for Christians. I’m going to attempt to coherently share some of what’s come to mind as I’ve wrestled through my own grief during this season.
To start, death might be the saddest reality of this broken world we live in. Even death that ends a person’s suffering brings heartbreak. Yes, we can celebrate their life and be grateful that their suffering is over. Yes, for Christians, we can rejoice knowing they’re with Jesus. But death always affects those left behind: loved ones in mourning, loved ones even with regret that they didn’t spend more time with that person, and loved ones who even question the timing or the cause of death in moments when it seems so random and senseless and even cruel. As Christians we mourn with hope, but we still mourn.
This reality of death’s sorrow has also affected how I now want to treat death in fiction writing, too. While death in books and other stories may be appropriate for the theme, they need to have meaning and substance behind them. I’m tired of witnessing senseless death that lacks meaning or hope in fiction. I’ve also come to despise overly gory deaths. Death is sad enough on its own; why do we need to glorify that with excessive violence? While senseless death and violence may be a reality of our broken world, sadly, death in fiction needs to be treated carefully, to help us move towards hope and healing, not reinforce despair.
Thinking about death during the Easter season also feels timely, as Easter is the holiday we celebrate victory over death. Without Easter, we could not face death with hope.
Contemplating the immense sorrow and suffering of death forces us to consider the death of Jesus Christ, our Savior who never deserved to die. Our mourning of regular human death should stir us to response similarly to the reality of the Cross. Yes, on Friday, we know Sunday is coming, and yet the truth that we caused the death of Jesus because of our own sinfulness should stir us to mourn His death, the death of the Son of God. The emotional weight of mourning the death of Jesus can stir us to worship and understand the significance of Good Friday in a deeper way, I think.
But we don’t stay in that state of mourning, by any means. In response to the immense sorrow and horror of death, the joy and hope we now have can shine even brighter. We rejoice that we finally have salvation from this awful reality of our sin. Jesus died to make a way to ensure our victory over death, to give us right standing with God, and view death with hope in the resurrection. Death is tragic, but as Christians we have the dearly bought gift of hope and everlasting life. The resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate on Easter Sunday contributes to this reminder of hope, too. Jesus’s resurrection is the visible reminder to us that death is not our end, and in that we can also take heart and receive His peace. The tragedy of death pales in comparison to the joy and hope we have in the resurrection.
In contemplating death and the Christian’s ability to hope in an eternity with God thanks to the work of Christ on the cross, we should also be stirred in our affections for the lost. Working in a very secular environment this past year has really engraved this on my heart. We as Christians have hope facing death, yet there are so many around us in our daily lives who do not know Him, who will face death without hope. That is the greatest tragedy of death: those who die not knowing Christ. The reality of death should remind us that time is short for all of us and stir us to be faithful workers before the harvest comes. Let us share the resurrection hope with those around us who currently do not have that same hope. If Christ gives us the power to face death bravely, will He not provide the courage to speak up and risk social ostracism for sharing the Gospel? If our Brothers and Sisters in countries where being a Christian is a death sentence can continue to cling to hope and preach the truth, can we not do the same in the Western world when our penalty for preaching Jesus doesn’t put our lives at risk? I ask these questions not only to you, but also to my own (far too often) cowardly heart.
My final point is this: as Christians, we should acknowledge the tragedy of death, yet remain grounded in the hope of the resurrection, symbolized by Easter. Just as Christ resurrected from the dead, so will we. Death is sad, death is tragic, death is marked by grief, and death never feels good or right, and yet—death does not have the final say. Jesus does. Praise God. Because of Jesus, we can say farewell to our loved ones with “Until the resurrection!” It is a cry of hope, one that we used to close my Grumpa’s funeral, and one that comforted me in the wake of his loss, because it is true. We will see each other again, one glorious day.
Cherish your family and friends this Easter. Be reminded of the hope we have in Christ of reuniting with those who have passed away. Praise be to Jesus, whom Revelation names Firstborn of the Dead.