The walls of my parents’ guest room are lined with monuments to Wegener history. Two pictures stand out to me particularly, my Grandfather and Grandmother. My only exposure to them is on celluloid; they both passed before my birth. Any experience of their love materializes past tense, “They would have loved you.”
Reflecting on these pictures over Thanksgiving, I felt I needed to squeeze as much out of my latest visit to my parents’ house as possible. My emotions were awash with anxiety and trepidation. And why not be anxious about enjoying every experience to the fullest? After all, parents get older and life is as fleeting as 2019.
Going into 2019, I had reasonable expectations for good hope. The church we serve loves us, and we them. Everyone had a positive outlook. When the year’s budding blossoms met the snap-freeze of consecutive funerals, the expectations of spring died on the vine. For a period of seven successive weeks, I officiated at eight funerals.
We lost our eldest living member. A friend lost a child. Another church member lost their father. The greatest shock came when a 54-year-old father, a longstanding Sunday School teacher and close friend of many members, passed away unexpectedly.
Death came so close to us as to fetch a portion of our hearts. Even the glad tidings of Christmas feel dampened by grief. What do you do with the grief of knowing this Christmas could be the last Christmas?
Is the solution to live like we are dying? To squeeze the precious out of every moment? If earthly experience is the epicenter of life, then we ought to hold onto the “now” with both hands, white-knuckling life’s vapors even as they dissipate. We ought to snap every picture, record every moment, and stave off any thought of what is right around the corner – grief.
Secularism tinges every moment with unassailable grief; it pressures us to get the most out of “now.” Even as we party through the holiday season, secularism broods in the corner, tallying every empty chair.
When we confront her, she prophesies the foreboding emptiness of Christmas future. It all ends. Clearly the joy of “now” does not reside in its fleeting nature.
Like all people, Christians are intimately acquainted with life’s end. But for us the end is a beginning. Our Christmas present may grieve over the empty chairs, but our eyes are on Christmas future. We grieve at Christmas but we “do not grieve as the world grieves” (1 Thess. 4:13).
Grief is a proper emotion. Mourning, loss, and sadness – none of these are rejected by Christians. We feel grief deeply. Even months after our loss, grief flashfloods our heart. Yet, Christian grief is not a capitulation to depression’s claim to victory of us. Nor is grief a crack in the door by which unfriendly and malicious spirits threaten to wreck the experience of Christmas present.
Christian grief is a dark and miserable rainstorm from which the noontide of another day will draw forth the river of life.
Yes, Christians weep bitterly over what the enemy took from us. We believe Death robs us of our birthright: everlasting life, love, and community with one another. But our tears are not the harbingers of despair, messengers speaking prophetically, “Mortal, you’re next.”
Our grief moans out terrible heartaches; but our grief, our tears, our loss, speaks of a hope to come. Our cry is never, “Get all you can now.” Our grief says, “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And our weeping isn’t unto the tomb, or a gravestone, or the dust. No. Our grief is heard. Our moan received even unto the eternal throne, wafted above by the hope of one empty grave.
Through the resurrection of Jesus, the first-fruits of Christmas to come, our love for those in Christ is never past tense. He rose! He lives! He is coming! Our tears say, “Beloved, you’re next.”