I hope this post does not seem morbid. That is certainly not my intention. But it seems I have been confronted by death a lot lately. Earlier this month, our senior pastor's brother died just a few months after contracting melanoma, leaving behind four young children. Then, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been reading the book "Love You, Mean It", which was written by a group of women who lost their husbands at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Lastly, and most poignant for me, has been following the blog of the wife of my cousin's cousin (Lynette Hoppe), who died this past Sunday from an agressive form of breast cancer. I have been reading her blog for almost a year, and essentially, watching her die through her journal entries. She also left behind a loving husband and two small children. (If you would like to read more about Lynette, her website is www.prayforlynette.org.)
Each of these situations has been different and very sad, in their own way. But one thing in particular has stood out to me: the difference between how those who know the Lord handle dying versus those who "have no hope." These passages are from the book by the 9/11 widows:
"That night I was wearing black, as usual, not because I was following any traditional guidelines for mourning, but because for me, the lights had gone out."
"Our husbands were gone, murdered. And in that instant, anything good is lost."
"I'd pretty much given up trying to feel better. It was like I was waving the white flag. I'd surrendered. I was in a 'nothing to lose' state of mind."
All of these feelings are understandable, even normal and expected, but the feeling of hopelessness and finality is so evident and sad.
What a contrast to this entry from Lynette's online journal, made just a few days before she died and right after she had learned that the cancer had spread to her liver and she had only a few weeks to live:
"When I first got news of my pending departure, I was frantic, thinking I needed to do some kind of “ministry,” but I soon realized that there was no value in ministry at this point. What I have done until now is what I have done. What I have become, is what I am. To try to have some kind of dramatically different prayer life is simply an attempt to “win his favor” and would actually be rather artificial. I am allowing myself to simply relax in the love of Jesus, to enjoy him in a new way. To think about joining him soon.
I have so much peace in thinking that there is nothing I can do to win over Christ. All I can do is throw myself into his arms and know that it is only through the work of Christ that I can be saved. I feel that I am ready to die a “painless, blameless, and peaceful death” even as we pray every liturgy. I may have a lot of physical pain, but in spirit I feel no pain, other than the pain of leaving those I love."
I cannot imagine facing death--my own or that of someone I love--without the hope that Christ promises. How do people who do not know the Lord and do not have the promise of eternal life cope with death? God does not expect that we will not be sad or angry or lonely--he was human just as we are. He himself wept when Lazarus died. But, he also does not expect that we will feel hopeless. After all, he allowed the death of his only Son, so that we would have that very hope.
In I Thessalonians 4:13, Paul writes:
And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don't want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus. (The Message)
The ONLY way we can have hope and peace in death, like Lynette most certainly had and the 9/11 widows sadly did not, is by knowing where our hope lies and knowing WHO is our hope. Each time I look out the back windows of our home (see picture below), I see a graveyard. Really. Our home is just fifty feet from the edge of a local historic cemetery. (Don't be freaked out! At least we have quiet neighbors!) Over the four years that we have lived here, we have seen numerous funerals and watched many people come to visit gravesites that are "decorated" with all manner of flowers, toys, signs, etc; some visit every single day. I always wonder if these living visitors have "hope"? Do they have the assurance that they will see their loved ones again in heaven or do they mourn "as those who have no hope"?
Although I never met Lynette Hoppe, never spoke to her or even wrote her a note, her death has really made me think. And I am almost certain that, with the apostle Paul, Lynette would have quoted the following verse and meant every word.
"For I live in eager expectation and hope that I will never do anything that causes me shame, but that I will always be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past, and that my life will always honor Christ, whether I live or I die." Philippians 1:20
I wonder if, when I'm gone, people will be able to say the same of me??