Today is a very difficult day in the life of my family. For today, we will be celebrating and memorializing the passing of Joannie’s sister, Celeste. Celeste was a vibrant, full-of-life, adventurous, grab life by the horns, fun-loving, gracious, caring, family-oriented, loving, and mission-oriented person. Everywhere Celeste graced she left an aroma of life.
As I have been a participant in the grieving process of losing Celeste, I have also been an observer. Throughout the past couple of weeks, I have observed what the Bible labels, “the sting of death” (1 Cor 15:55,56). For anyone who has faced death, they have experienced its sting. Death, although it is natural in a fallen world, is actually inherently unnatural. No one in their right mind wants to die, and when we face death, it is something that brings much pain, sorrow, grief, and heartache. The Bible teaches us that God created us in his image, thus a creation element of humanity is the eternality of life. The natural imago-Dei (image of God) element in our life is to live forever (which we will: either with Jesus forever or without him). Nevertheless, death at some point knocks on everyone’s door, and at some point, issues a sting to everyone.
In this short entry, I want to share three elements of the sting of death that I have observed over the past couple of weeks and then three elements of the victorious life in light of the sting of death.
Element #1 of the Sting of Death: Tragic. We do not need to numb ourselves to all deaths, for all deaths are tragic. However, some deaths are more traumatic than others. There is this unspoken order that children are to mourn their parents, not parents their children. But the reality is that many times death does not line-up with this unspoken order. Therefore, the tragedy of death stings the heart. Accompanying death is grief, which also has the siblings: pain, hurt, anger, despair, heartache, weightiness, difficulty breathing, and sorrow. Given the fact that God created us to live forever, there is nothing all right with death. Pardon the crassness, but death sucks! What makes death sometimes worse is how one dies. There are a myriad of tragic ways people die. Some die from mad, insane gunmen, others from terrible diseases, others from preventable diseases, and some from foolish drunk, under-aged, texting drivers who think they are invincible. No matter how one dies, the people around them come face-to-face with the tragedy of death.
Element #2 of the Sting of Death: Hopelessness. No matter one’s worldview, the initial reaction of death brings a sense of hopelessness. The person is gone; there is no way of bringing them back. When this reality sets in, it is very surreal. No more phone calls, drop-by’s, Facebook messages or tweets, presents, cards, dinners, vacations, and holidays. This surreal reality brings with it a great sense of hopelessness and despair. One immediately begins to absorb all the mental memories and gather all the tangible memories in an effort to keep the person close. Really at these moments, nothing can be said to bring peace and comfort, for it is truly is a feeling of hopelessness and despair.
Element #3 of the Sting of Death: Pain. Death causes great pain. The truth of the pain of death does not ever dissolve. I was recently in a meeting where dads were talking about the loss of their sons ten years ago, and how there is still daily pain. While the intensity of the pain may subside, there still remains the permanency of pain. The loss of a family member or a friend is a loss of part of you, part of your life. One will live daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly in light of the loss. This is painful.
Element #1 of the Victorious Life: Hope. There is no denying that the stinger of death is tragic and injects both hopelessness and pain. However, when it comes to the redemption that only comes by the life and work of Jesus, a life lived in confession and faith in Jesus becomes one that triumphs over the sting of death. As the apostle Paul writes, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:55, 57).
Scripture has one big story-line, and these are the major headings: CREATION, FALL, REDEMPTION, and RESTORATION. God creates and it is very good, perfect, peaceful, tranquil, and right; man sins, disobeys, and rejects God and his goodness, causing cosmic disarray, distortion, damage, and death. If the Bible ended with this picture, the sting of death would get the final say, and bring with it the greatest sting. However, God promises redemption—to redeem and purchase life back for man! In addition, God promises not only to purchase life back for man, but also to one day fully restore his creation back to a pre-fall state. Talk about a hope that is greater than the sting and hopelessness of death! Tonight we will celebrate, with heavy hearts, the hope of Celeste’s (as well as ours) redemption and restoration, which is only found in Jesus Christ. Do you have hope?
Element #2 of the Victorious Life: Celebration. I think there will be some tonight that will attend Celeste’s memorial service only to be taken back by the type of environment that will be created. Will it be a memorial service? Yes. But more importantly, it will be a service celebrating the life, death, and future resurrection and restoration of Celeste—made possible only by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And more specifically, tonight’s celebration will have a mixture of mourning and morning. There will be mourning, because of the sting of death; however, there will also be morning. As the psalmist sings, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Tonight, there will be tears of weeping in light of the mourning of Celeste’s passing; in addition, beside the tears of mourning will be tears of the morning—celebrating the joy, the hope, and the life that Jesus brought in her and used in her to bring to others. Here is a sobering question: At our memorial service, will people mourn our death? Or, will they celebrate our life in both mourning and morning?
Element #3 of the Victorious Life: Impact. No matter how long or short a victorious life, it leaves a great meteoric impact. Observing and hearing her family and friends talk, as well as reading the Facebook comments, Celeste in a brief 27 years made an intensive impact. Her life exemplifies what it means to live an abundant life and to finish well in the name of Jesus. As a pastor I dream of what churches would really look like if they were full of Celestes’. Tonight, we will gather and celebrate the life of Celeste, and the impact she has made in all of our lives.
In light of Celeste’s life, here is a good question for us all to chew on: If today were our last day to live, how big of an impact would our lives have left in this world? Here is another one: would people come out of an obligation or out of a celebration for the impact you left in their life?
For the first time in my life (as well as my wife Joannie’s), I have been visited with the death of a very close family member. In this situation, I have experienced the sting of death, but the victory of Jesus. The sting of death is real; it is tragic, despairing, gut wrenching, weighty, heart aching, and painful. At the same time however, the victorious life—made possible by Jesus and his finished work on the cross—triumphs gloriously over the sting of death!