Just over a month ago, I attended the funeral of two dear friends. The service was devastatingly hard but also beautifully and wonderfully hopeful.
As the church reached its capacity and crowds gathered outside it was clear that this devoted couple had touched the lives of many, many individuals.
And as the same pastor who had preached at their wedding stood up to preach again, he did not avoid that awful reality of what had happened. Death is terrible, he said.
I was already in tears, and they became impossible to control when the coffins were carried in. As the undertakers carefully placed my two friends at the front of the church, the reality of death swept over me again and I was reminded of a day 11 years ago as I watched one of my best friends, in the same way, being carried down the aisle.
At 11, death seemed impossible, everything about it felt wrong. At 22, nothing has changed. I can’t describe the feeling of watching the undertakers carry in the coffin of someone you love.
Death has become a sort of taboo in Western society, no one really wants to talk about it. And I see why. Even as a kid I’d catch myself awake at night, thinking about death, and absolutely terrified by it. Death is terrible, it is inescapable and it brings into question the very significance of our lives.
Death threatens to destroy everything, it tears families apart, destroys lives, renders our achievements meaningless. It takes away those we love and it takes them far too soon. Every death that I remember grieving has been sudden, unexpected and has taken far too young.
We cannot avoid the reality of death, and so the question is: what hope do we have in the face of this powerful enemy?
The Harry Potter book series provides a lot of reflections on the nature of life and death. And that’s pretty much what half of my dissertation was about. On the tombstone of Harry’s parents is this engraved sentence:
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
As I analysed these words in my dissertation, I had no idea that I would soon be grappling with such truths in a very real, raw and personal way.
In Harry Potter, Hermione clarifies to Harry that this doesn’t mean eradicating death but instead points to the hope of living after death. These words point to the hope of resurrection, that we will rise again and the death will ultimately be defeated.
A valid question would now be: how can this hope be possible?
These words are not insignificant. Rowling is directly quoting a verse from the Bible, from a letter that Paul the Apostle wrote to the Corinthians. Earlier in the paragraph he writes to them:
If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
There’s a lot going on here, and you can find a much more detailed look at the message at globe.church However, I understand the main point to be this:
If dead people don’t rise then Christ has not been raised. But if Christ was raised, then those who follow him will be raised too. After he was crucified Jesus was placed in the tomb. Three days later there was no body in the tomb because Jesus had been raised. All those who trust in him, who are joined to him, will be raised too.
There is hope in the face of death because there is one who has overcome it. There is one who has conquered death.
Death has lost its sting.
And this is why there is something very different about my grief now to my grief just over a decade ago. Then I did not know the hope of the good news of Jesus Christ. Now, I do. I no longer grieve as one who has no hope. Instead, there is joy.
But if I’m truly honest, the reality is that often I do not feel the comfort of this hope, I feel the grief. And that is ok, after all, this hope isn’t supposed to instantly and completely take our pain away, it is a hope to hold on to as we desperately grieve and face the overwhelming pain of this broken world.
And so, as we sang in praise to our God who has defeated death, I felt the deep comfort of the hope of heaven in the words that follow:
And there we’ll find our home,
Our life before the throne
We’ll honour Him in perfect song
Where we belong.
He’ll wipe each tear-stained eye
As thirst and hunger die.
The lamb becomes our Shepherd King;
We’ll reign with Him.
Hear heaven’s voices sing;
Their thunderous anthem rings
Through em’rald courts and sapphire skies.
Their praises rise.
All glory, wisdom, pow’r,
Strength, thanks, and honour are
To God our King, who reigns on high
(There is A Higher Throne – Keith and Kristyn Getty)
The dome lit up with the sun’s bright rays, hands were raised in worship.
If Christ has been raised, whose who follow him will be raised too. And I am convinced that Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.