Ravi Zacharias Buried in Casket Built by Prisoners
“Our hope is as certain as Jesus’s grave is empty,” said Sam Allberry in solemn graveside service.
Ravi Zacharias was laid to rest on Thursday, May 21, in a private ceremony in Georgia. It was a largely overcast day with glimpses of sunlight piercing through the clouds, a reflection of those who were mourning below with glimpses of hope piercing through the mournful occasion. His family gathered to honor not just the leader of a global ministry or an evangelist-apologist who crisscrossed the globe in the service of Christ, but a loving husband, a nurturing father, and a loyal and generous brother. Sam Allberry, who officiated the service, rightly reminded all that this is not the end of Ravi’s story. Hovering over the whole ceremony was the confidence of the words that had saved Ravi’s life 57 years ago: “Because I live, you will also live” (John 14:19).
Allberry gently ministered to the family through his message of hope and assurance in Christ during the graveside service. He explained that the Christian’s hope is grounded in the assurance of Christ’s life and faithfulness. Since Christ lives, we know that Ravi lives. In that sense, the grave is something of a painful deception. Ravi now rests cradled in our Lord’s earth not as one who has been snatched from life, but as a dear saint ultimately liberated to life everlasting in the presence of his Lord and Savior. Using an analogy fitting of a man who had spent his life spanning the globe, Allberry described the grave as an airport transit lounge visited before one reaches their final destination. We know it is not the final destination because it was not Christ’s final destination. “Our hope,” Allberry said, “is as certain as Jesus’s grave is empty.”
Ravi passed away on May 19 after a short battle with cancer at the age of 74. He died on his mother’s birthday. He is survived by his wife, Margie, their three children, and five grandchildren.
The love that many around the world felt for Ravi through his lifetime of work was present in the very receptacle in which Ravi’s body now rests. Ravi’s message of hope in Jesus Christ resonated with many, especially those in prison populations around the world. He developed a special relationship with Louisiana State Penitentiary, known widely as Angola Prison, inspired by his friendship with the late Chuck Colson, a leading figure in prison ministry and the man who first urged Ravi to put his Harvard Veritas lectures into the written form that became his second book, Can Man Live Without God.
Ravi visited Angola a few times over the years, most recently in June of 2019. It was an incredible experience he wrote about in a June 8 Facebook post:
“In the ante room to the execution room is where the sentenced man has his last meal. A prisoner has painted two paintings that grace the wall there. One is Daniel in the Lion’s Den, meaning, “God might still rescue you.” Next to that is another one: Elijah going up on chariots of fire. One way or the other, God will be there for you. ...
Even in a dark place, the Gospel is shining with grace and power. That is the only hope for the world because we are all prisoners of sin, and only the cross has the answer and the freedom.”
The prisoners at Angola held a very special place in Ravi’s heart. In a beautiful example of the Grand Weaver ever-present in Ravi’s life and death, it is these very prisoners who lovingly crafted the casket in which Ravi was buried.
Ravi wrote about his request to be buried in a casket fashioned by Angola inmates in his most recent book, Seeing Jesus from the East (Zondervan, 2020). With great insight, he wrote of the inspirational lessons one can learn from these dear brothers in Christ. Ravi did not know that his words would be full of so much meaning for his loved ones just a few months after they were penned. “These prisoners know that this world is not their home,” Ravi explains, “and that no coffin could ever be their final destination. Jesus assured us of that. Such is the gospel story.” He expands on this message later, writing “The story of the gospel is the story of eternal life. My life is unique and will endure eternally in God’s presence. I will never be ‘no more.’ I will never be lost because I will be with the One who saves me.”
These sentiments were felt throughout the service, which began with the reading of God’s word in John 11:25, 26; Romans 8:38, 39; and 1 Thessalonians 4:14, 17b, and came to a close in the Anglican committal prayer
We have entrusted Ravi to God’s mercy,
and we now commit his body to the ground:
in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who will transform our frail bodies
that they may be conformed to his glorious body,
who died, was buried, and rose again for us.
To him be glory for ever.
Ravi Zacharias, a friend of Christ who tried to end his life after 17 years and was given 57 more by and through God’s grace, has finished his race and entered Eternal Rest. As God rested from His works, Ravi now rests from his as well (Hebrews 4:9, 10). At the conclusion of this solemn graveside service, as Ravi’s casket was lowered into Georgia’s red clay soil, Allberry could not help but to reflect on those famous words attributed to George Herbert, “Death used to be an executioner, but the gospel has made him just a gardener.”
Photos by Elizabeth Lauren Jones Photography.
Margie and the Zacharias family have asked that in lieu of flowers gifts be made to the ongoing work of RZIM. Ravi’s heart was people. His passion and life’s work centered on helping people understand the beauty of the gospel message of salvation. Our prayer is that, at his passing, more people will come to know the saving grace found in Jesus through Ravi’s legacy and the global team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.