Sorrow overtakes and sorrow surrounds and sorrow cleanses and purges and burns dross away. Sorrow pierces the soul and sorrow ushers in the anointing of the spirit with healing and grace. Sorrow stiffens and sorrow softens and sorrow creates an ache for that which is hastening—a place where tears are no more and death is swallowed up in victory, where sickness and weeping and disease and fear are a forgotten “once was."
Sometimes it is tempting as believers to ignore the present sorrow, to move about in a bubble of sorts, unbothered by the pain of those around us, unmoved by the suffering and sorrow that lies in our midst and on our very doorsteps.
We are “marching to Zion” with closed eyes and shallow hearts, falsely proud that we are not affected by disaster and disease and pain because this world is not our home, we are headed for a heavenly country. We forget that we are pilgrims and sojourners, not tourists on vacation, breezing through this life and into the next on a rose float of sorts.
It bothers me when Christians take death lightly, when I take death lightly. I once heard our pastor describe the difference between funeral services in this country as opposed to those in other countries. He said that here, the body is puffed up and painted, the hair fixed, the outfit immaculate, the makeup overdone. Death is “dressed up,” so to speak, and made to appear as appealing and unthreatening as possible, right down to the corpse’s manicured nails. However in many other places around the world, this is not the case. Extreme heat often allows the “odor” of death to bathe the corpse in an unattractive smell. There is wailing and the sound of drums and the earthy reality that death has a sting, an element to it of finality, the sealing of the fate of a man or a woman unto eternity. Death is not a pretty parade; it is a stark statement that man has an appointed hour, a time of reckoning, a day when the deeds done in the flesh are sealed and stamped and sent to the great Judge of all the earth.
I remember poignantly the “odor” of death when a baby rabbit that we were trying to revive didn’t make it. It sickens me now, and I don’t like to think of it, don’t like to dwell upon it, but I write it here to illustrate that death is ugly and death has a sting. The bloated body of that tiny creation of God shouts of its sting. The writhing of a dying starling, the startling, eerie cry of a bird caught in the claws of a hawk before it’s flesh is torn from its body and its beating heart is silenced, the thud of a deer and its heaving breath in the cold Autumn air from the hunter’s bow, the suffering of a nest of baby opposums whose mother never returns to it for one reason or another—these all speak, shout, of the sting of death, of the groaning of creation. And it is ugly and it is not funny and there is no glory in it, only glory in the knowledge that it will one day be swallowed up in victory.
And I think that the Lord allows us to see things like this, to taste things like this, even though they are painful, to reiterate to our stubborn, forgetful, prideful hearts again and again, that death has a sting and it is a bitter sting.
But that He has gained the victory over it . . .
And in this we rejoice, but not glibly.
Jesus wept when He went to the sisters of Lazarus. He waited and then He wept and He had power over death and knew the ultimate outcome and yet wept.
And why was the King of all the universe, the Author of all joy, also called “a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief,” One who can relate to all of our sorrows and infirmities on this earth because He also suffered?
Vance Havner says, “We’re to glory in our tribulation, but we’re not to glorify our tribulation” --that we shouldn’t try to put a “halo” around sin and suffering, accident and disease.
Jesus hung upon a cross to abolish death; the God-Man, King of all the universe, hung on a rugged, homely cross, for the sins of the world, for the love of His people.
He hung there, the Man of Sorrows, so that death could lose its sting for you and for me, and to magnify the Father’s grace, to bring Him glory.
We wait for what is to come, but we dwell in the “now,” a world where sorrow and suffering and death surround us. We are over-comers through His grace, but we are also affected by the bitterness and woe of this fallen world and all its troubles, pain, loneliness, and trials.
And we are here to “weep with those who weep,” to experience sorrow in this life so that we may taste deliverance in the next. We are here to alleviate pain and anguish whenever we are able to, to show the love and compassion of Christ to fellow men and women and bird and beast. We are here to protect and to restore, to wait for the final restoration, when He puts all things under His feet and when death is swallowed up in victory.
There is a proper grief, a grief that reaches out to the grieving, a grief that is touched by the infirmities of those around us, as Jesus was touched when He walked upon the earth. There is a proper grief, and it points to the Savior-the Man of Sorrows, who felt the utter sting of death and cried out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” It points to the Savior whose death enables us to say with joy inexpressible and full of the realization of what was accomplished for us--
“Where, O death, is thy sting, and where, O grave, is thy victory . . .?” (I Corinthians 15:55)
We are not here to pretend that disease and death and suffering do not exist. We are here to show that through them, through Christ and His shed blood, there is victory, and that we are not utterly bound by them.
Our funerals are not parties, showcases of the individual. Our funerals are reminders of the solemnity of death and of the blessed hope that we have as believers in Christ. Our funerals are showcases of God and His mercy and kindness, bestowed not on a superman or woman, but on a sinner, saved by grace. I am reminded of what William Carey requested be written on his grave, and I end here with his humble, grace-saturated words towards the Savior Whom he loved and served—
“A wretched, poor, and helpless worm, On Thy kind arms I fall.”
There is a proper grief, a grief that is bathed in humility—and it’s end is thanksgiving and peace and true rest.