Death brings something into the world we do not want. It brings loss and separation, and so we grieve. We ponder people who no longer are with us and smiles we no longer will see. And we grapple with how to make sure death won’t happen again. We redouble our efforts to topple a pandemic that has claimed four-hundred thousand Americans.
But why do we not like death? Why do we rebel at the idea of it? Certainly, we don’t like mysteries, and death is a mystery. We don’t like change, either, and death brings change. But why haven’t we come – after all these thousands of years of human existence and, some would say, of thousands of years of human evolution – to the point we stoically accept the fact of death? Death has come to everyone, and it will come to you and me, too. Get used to it. Steel yourself against it.
And yet we don’t. We don’t get used to it, perhaps, because we can’t. Abraham was the first in the Bible to grieve death, and Abraham did so after he’d been given the promise from God for life. Abraham knew something rich and fulfilling and life-giving was on its way. As Christians, we grieve knowing eternal life is so close at hand. We know what we are made for, and we are not made for graves and tombs. We are made for communion with God.
Perhaps Abraham was shocked when Sarah died, and he wept over her body because the promised gift was right there. He could almost taste it. A child had been born. The Promised Land had been walked. Abraham went to Hebron – the future capital of the tribe of Judah, the tribe of David and of Jesus – to bury his bride. He buried her in the place of promise.
The realization of full life was so close – and so the disappointment at death was perhaps all the greater. The world learns this fact from us, from Christians. The world learns that death is a great disappointment from the people who live closer to God than anyone else. We rub off on the world, on humanity, like a light shining into darkness, or like a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14-15).
We are meant for life, and so we grieve death. We teach this to the world.
But the difference between ourselves and the unbelieving world is we also can rejoice in death. It’s great sting – and it is great – has been relieved and will be even further relieved by resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).