This blog is part of our series on grief and death. This guest blog comes from Andy Shudall.
I’ve stood beside too many graves in my life. Growing up an altar boy in Catholic Liverpool, I attended hundreds of funerals between the ages of 7 and 17. The tragic deaths of children and young parents, the untimely deaths of people through accidents, the deaths of men and women taken after protracted disease. I don’t remember the ‘it was her time’ comments that I’ve come to hear later in life, among more comfortable and well resourced friends whose elderly grand-parents have lived well and now come to the end of their race.
Stephen was the first person I buried as a pastor. He was young, small, and had definitely died before his time. Even before he’d seen the sun or drawn a breath. He was taken at around 21 weeks of gestation. The first child of his parents, his death underlined the fragility of life. Then just a few weeks later I was burying a woman after a months long battle with cancer, another man who had faced a few of years decline due to Alzheimers…
Death is no friend, it is not polite, considerate or kind. It doesn’t ask when to come, it is a visitor who brings complications and pain, sorrow that lasts for years, decades even.Tweet
Death is no friend, it is not polite, considerate or kind. It doesn’t ask when to come, it is a visitor who brings complications and pain, sorrow that lasts for years, decades even. Yet death is a visitor that we are all guaranteed. There is an appointment in the future – sudden and unexpected, or slow though uncertain, which each of us must keep.
This last year my mother, my aunt, my uncle, my cousin have all had their appointments with death. Death comes, to young and old and seems currently to stalk the earth and reap a harvest that is shocking the globe and reminding us of the inevitability of death, not as an abstract thought, but as a real threat to each of us.
Each time, every single time, at funerals, the thought comes to me “Jesus ruined every funeral he attended, including his own”.Tweet
In the gospels when we see Jesus at a funeral he spoils it – the deceased are no longer so when Jesus leaves. Jairus’ dead daughter is up and playing when Jesus leaves the funeral party. The widow of Nain’s son helps to bring back the funeral bier that he was being carried on. Lazarus hops out of his tomb at Jesus command, and somewhat Mr-Bean-like, has to be awkwardly unwrapped by those who were there to mourn his passing.
Jesus himself put spoilers on his own funeral. As dead as could be, having been lain in a tomb, he rested until on morning of the third day after he had been crucified then he simply disappears from the grave – so cataclysmically that the cloths that had enfolded him collapse under their own weight, without Jesus body to keep them in place.
Jesus rises from death – not as one resuscitated and needing support, but as Life itself – defying physics and philosophy, fulfilling scripture, and delivering promises. He brings forgiveness, having emptied out the accusations of the Law, nailing them to the cross and taking them to the grave. They collapse, emptied out, like the grave clothes Jesus leaves behind. The Risen One bears the scars of death but none of the cost of it – set free through death, accomplishing all that God promised. Jesus who walked on water now walks through walls and breathes out God’s Spirit to impart the seal the deal of Life itself that outlasts death, The Holy Spirit.
There will come a day that every tomb will be emptied and startled ex-corpses will stand before the Eternal Risen Son of God. He who raised the girl, the lad, the man and is Risen himself – will call everyone from their graves, tell us all to wake up and get up. There will be judgment and salvation. Justice, mercy, Eternal sorrow and eternal joy anchored in Jesus and our faith response to him in the here and now.
The week before his death and resurrection, Jesus prepared the band of men and women who traveled with him for what is to come by waiting before leaving to go to the then dying Lazarus.
“this sickness will not lead to death” he says. As is so often the case, those around him completely misunderstand. They hear “he’ll get better…”. Though Lazarus dies – though grief comes – this sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory. So much so, that we still see God’s glory in the incident two thousand years later as we read the account in John’s biblical biography of Jesus.
Every single funeral I’m at I think of Jesus who ruined death and ruins funerals. In tearsat my mothers funeral and in leading funerals since, anticipating the funeral of my uncle and cousin next week – the same thought confronts me. Death is not a welcome visitor but it points us now to Jesus – who took on death for us, who defeated death for us, who lives today for us. If only we would trust him and receive from him this extravagant gift of eternal life; Jesus becomes our all in all and our Great Hope, death a hurdle.
The Apostle Paul wrote after becoming someone who trusted in Jesus for this gift of eternal life: “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain”. He did not want to die, but death held and must hold no fear for those who live in the Risen One.
We face a pandemic and a tsunami of death. Jesus continues to ruin funerals and bring eternal life that out lives death. This makes our close brushes and inevitable appointments with death no less of a loss, but Jesus snatches victory from the grave. This sickness does not lead unto death, but to the glory of God.
Andy Shudall is the Senior Pastor of Titirangi Baptist Church, Auckland, New Zealand. Born in Liverpool, Andy became an accidental Christian at 17 – long story – and at uni in St Andrews, discovered confidence in the gospel (and married Ines, from Germany) that led to a passion in student ministry. A year on the first year of UCCF’s Relay Programme led to a year out becoming a calling – Andy worked with UCCF for 12 years, the last five as Relay Coordinator. In 2005 Andy and Ines and their three kids moved to New Zealand to serve student ministry there, In 2015 the move into pastoral ministry finally meant that after 22 years the ‘year out’ was over. Andy and Ines have three adult children, two of whom are in the UK – Andy and Ines’ first grandchild Oliver is currently growing up on the same council estate where Andy grew up. Titirangi Baptist have been discovering the joys and frustrations of church online over these last few weeks – all are welcome to join.
We have other posts in this series on grief and death in COVID19. Read Beauty in the clinging written by Beks.