A Sudden Grief, A Sublime Hope
Death is a painful loss. A sudden death is felt even more deeply. As a family, we went through such grief recently. It was July the 3rd and being the long weekend, we were preparing for a nice celebration with our family. Suddenly the rest and planning was shattered by one sentence on my cell phone from my brother. He had tried to reach me but I had missed the call. In a few words he stated that my younger sister, who lives in St. Catharine’s, Ontario, had just phoned him to say her husband had suddenly passed away. Returning from church that morning he said to her that he was not feeling the best and would just rest a little on the deck, because it was a beautiful day. She was going to fix breakfast, and knowing his love for a cup of tea after church, she made him that tea and took it to the deck, only to be stunned to find his body fallen backwards as he breathed his last breath in this life. She screamed for help. The neighbors rushed over and they tried to revive him, but he was gone at 73. Like an engine suddenly stopping in the middle of the sky, as one would say, he was transported to his heavenly home.
Oh, but the shock of it! The suddenness of it all still makes it hard to believe.
My sister asked if I would speak at his funeral, a request I was honored to accept. But as I sat through the service, two thoughts converged, almost like the Atlantic and Indian oceans colliding at a point at land’s end.
The first was sorrow, deep sorrow, watching my sister and her four children experiencing such grief. Death is synonymous with pain for the ones who remain. They will walk with a limp the rest of their lives. She cried her heart out on the phone with me. “I still can't believe it,” she kept saying. It is a moment that we must all face some day, but it is a moment fixed by our sovereign Lord. When it happens, it is an appointment we must keep. There’s a valley that our loved ones go through.
But like a fearful symmetry, there was the second thought: the mountain top that is reached by the one who has bid us farewell. What a way to go, for him! Glenn was an amazing man. He and my sister, Prem, were married for 44 years. I remember when they first met and he got his first “baptism of fire” with a mouthful of curry sauce and rice. He was our guest and we watched with surprise as his face turned red while sweat poured out of his pores. He charged out of the back door, grabbing some snow and plastering his face with it. For the first time in life, I experienced both pity and laughter at their best. I figured there was no future for this relationship with torture at every meal. But it was not to be. He loved her dearly and was determined he would grow to like the food she liked. He accomplished his pursuit and in a matter of months, he could match our capacity with a hunk and a sip and a chunk and a blow with delight. That was Glenn. A determined man with a love he wanted to honor. He loved her dearly.
Nothing was more fitting, though, than the manner in which he died. When he stepped onto the deck, he took his Bible with him and God’s Word was in his lap as he read. He truly loved the Lord with all his heart. He died with the Word of God in his gaze and was instantly lifted to gaze at the God of the Word in the heavenlies. My sister said that in the 44 years they were married, never once, never once, did he miss his time with the Lord. It was his daily feast before he began his day. That was the real fire in his soul. We loved him as he did us.
The Scriptures tell us, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for them that love him.” Glenn has now seen and heard. It is we who see darkly and hear in garbled tones. The way our world is skidding out of control with bloodshed and hate, I long even more for the day when our faith shall be sight. The hymn writer Horatio Spafford says it well. These words were written by one who had all but one of his family wiped out in the high seas:
And Lord haste the day When the faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The Trump shall resound And the Lord shall descend! Even so, it is well with my soul.
His was truly a story of love for God and love for life.
On the heels of Glenn’s passing, I read with dismay the murder of many in France by a man who used a truck as a weapon of mass destruction. A man who lived with hate and was committed to accelerate death. He told the police he was delivering ice cream to the children in the festive crowd. Instead, he brought death to them. There you have it. The gullible, unsuspecting police believed a dastardly lie. Why did they believe him, since trucks were not allowed in that area? Because it was unthinkable to them that something so heinous was in the offing. With the murderous intent of some, you’d think they would have at least wanted to check the back of the truck. But it was not to be. The killer drove through the crowd and the imagination stops because to think further is ugly. He lived with a darkness within that is almost unthinkable. But just think for a moment: if there is no hope beyond the grave, he had the last laugh. If, however, there is a God who metes out justice and sent his Son for our salvation, death is just a shadow going over us. The resurrection is the ultimate reality He offers us.
For the killer, the darkness within was propelling him into outer darkness. He would meet the judge of all the earth, who will set the balances straight. But so many others went to an early and a painful death.
That’s why Jesus wept at his friend’s grave. He knew the pain death brings to the loved ones. But Jesus also reminded us that death can be the valley on the way to the mountain.
That’s why we preach Jesus. The tears are real. But, He promises that He will wipe away all tears. He promises that our eyes will see the reality that we can only dream about. We pray for the families in their pain, that together we will seek life.
My brother-in-law’s life showed me in a simple and sublime way what really matters. He was the eternal optimist. The murderer in Nice shows us how deadly sin is. Hate in belief and death in intent. There is always a choice before us.
Even as I pray for my sister’s family, I pray with hope. As I think of the darkness of our world, I know there is only one hope. We must keep sharing Jesus. While politicians and the media struggle to tell us the truth, the truth is that the human heart needs transformation and redemption. That is not offered in the faith of this killer: His only solution is death. In the gospel we are told to choose life. Help us to shine your light in the darkness, dear Lord.