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Grave Twist Of Death
A Burial Happens On Earth As A Birth Happens In Heaven
It’s 11:40am and I am still seated at the San Francisco Airport terminal. I look around while tapping my feet nervously. It’s been an hour delay while waiting for our boarding instructions. I can’t wait to take off and be by my daughter’s side when she gives birth to our first granddaughter. She was just admitted that morning. Then Southwest Airlines announces a big delay in our flight schedule to San Diego. Our plane is grounded in Chicago due to a severe snowstorm. The next flight out will be at 4pm but there’s no telling. That’s four hours from now! That’s four more hours to wait and wonder. Will my daughter hold out before I get to the hospital? Will I get to witness the birth of my granddaughter? Will I miss this momentous event in the life of our family?
Finally our long awaited plane taxies down the runway and reaches the terminal gate. All passengers bound for San Diego are called to board. Now that’s the ticket! I figure about an hour by plane to my destination, an hour by car to the hospital, and I just might make it in time for the birth. Upon landing, I called to check my daughter’s condition. The contractions were just minutes apart. Everyone’s waiting. I’m praying I don’t get held up waiting in the freeway traffic.
I arrived at the hospital by 6:45pm. My phone rings at the lobby. The contractions persisted. Like our grounded plane in Chicago, the baby’s arrival was delayed. What’s new? I’ve been waiting half the day already. I stop at the nurses’ front desk for directions. Would you believe it? They direct me to go to the waiting room. All right already. I get it. I’ll be patient! I’ll wait! After all, this whole day has been about waiting.
As I enter my daughter’s room she turns to me and says, “Dad, you made it!” The rest of the family was present and accounted for. We sat down waiting and wondering, “What was happening inside the mother’s womb?”
At 8:30pm the waiting room quickly converted into a birthing room. We were well on our way. At the stroke of nine, the doctor arrived to aid Natalia toward the latter end of her ordeal. The doctor assured us, “She’s coming through any minute!” By 9:12pm a beautiful baby girl named Amelia made her grand entrance into our world. Wow! What a blessing! It was worth the wait! It was emotionally exhausting, yet so exhilarating! Camera phones flashed above a sea of “Oohs” and “Aahs.” Smiles were shared around the room as everyone stepped into their newfound roles. Grandparents, parents, uncles, and aunts alike were caught up in the joy of the moment. I turned to my granddaughter saying, “Amelia, you made it!” The long wait was over.
In our world, the joy of birth is swallowed by the grief of death. Waiting for someone to die is heart wrenching. Losing someone so suddenly is downright shocking. We dread the day when our loved ones die.
But we willingly welcome birth of a baby. We prepare for the occasion. The highly anticipated arrival is celebrated with a baby shower. A room in the home is set apart for a nursery. The results of the ultrasound determine if the walls will be painted pink or blue. It’s equipped with a crib, rocker, and lots of toys. Clothes for the coming infant are purchased at the local baby store. The soon-to-be Mom and Dad even enroll in a Lamaze class as they contemplate natural childbirth. Everyone can’t wait until the nine months are up.
Naming the child becomes a family preoccupation. Should we go with a traditional name that has been passed down through the generations? Is the name Telesforo or Procorpio in keeping with the times? Is identifying the baby boy as ‘Junior’ still appropriate? Why not call all the girls Maria? Could we break tradition and go with more down-to-earth names like Leaf, Rain or River? Why not round out all the earthy elements and just settle for the name Forest?
Bottom line, a baby’s entrance into our world is always the next big thing. Yet when the life our loved one is torn away from us, we are never prepared to face the pain of loss. Informing the immediate family members pains us. Selecting the coffin be it pine, cherry or mahogany, kills us. Choosing between a burial plot and cremation is a decision we don’t care to make. Why? Because bidding the loved one our last farewell causes us to die a thousand deaths. Death is so unnatural. Death seems so final. Death so stings our souls.
Do you dread death? Do you shrink back in terror at the thought? How do you answer when death knocks upon your door? Is your fear of dying robbing your joy of living?
Some 2000 years ago, Jesus came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”[i]
Death’s famous roll call in Jesus’ day allowed him to liven up people to the great news he was proclaiming. He took the dead synagogue ruler’s daughter by the hand and said, “Little girl, get up!”[ii] He came up to the casket of the widowed mother’s only son and said, “Young man, rise!”[iii]
At the top of this death list laid his friend Lazarus. The news of his death came unexpectedly. The disciples along with Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, never imagined that this would happen. Jesus stands before the tomb after four days and orders the stone of the entrance taken away. Then he cries out, “Lazarus, come out!”
Death took a backseat in all these miraculous instances. Death bowed down before the will of the Son of God. Death released its grip before the Giver of Life. After all, Jesus Christ revealed his hidden identity saying,
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”[iv]
But here’s the catch. The little girl, the young man, and Jesus’ close friend Lazarus eventually died. And finally, Jesus himself died that we might live through him. In and through Christ’s death on a cross, those who died in the past and those that will die in the future, will surely live to see a glorious day, if they truly believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?
When it comes down to dying, understand that God sees a person’s dark exodus into the valley of the shadow of death[v] differently. The writer of Ecclesiastes sheds some light on subject concerning life and death. He tells us, “And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.”[vi] From God’s point of view, there’s nothing to grieve about. God responds to the grave facts with great news. There is a happy twist to the sad story of death. It’s a mind-blowing divine perspective that will turn our mourning into an unspeakable joy.
Heaven has its own birthing room. If there’s a burial happening on earth, there’s a birth happening in heaven. Angels wait and watch the death of our loved ones in heaven in the same way grandparents wait and watch the birth of their grandkids in the maternity ward. Angels anticipate the arrival of our dearly departed into God’s glorious new world. Our Father in heaven can’t wait to receive our loved ones into His loving arms. In fact, the Bible says that there will be more joy in heaven over one precious repentant soul that enters its gates.[vii] Can you hear the angels in heaven whisper? Listen. “He’ll be coming through any minute!”
We don’t grieve when babies enter our world. The heavenly host won’t weep when we make our exit. The future drama unfolded in the Book of Revelation, when the Apostle John was caught up in a heavenly vision. He was reduced to tears after hearing a mighty angel ask, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”[viii] Who in heaven and on earth is worthy to conquer sin and death? While John wept bitterly before the vision of the heavenly throne an elder approached him and said, “Do not weep.”[ix] There’s no crying in heaven! “See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”[x] Only Jesus, the slaughtered Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world[xi] and death, was worthy to take the scroll and open its seals.[xii] For his shed blood on the cross, ransomed for God, saints from every tribe and language and people and nation.[xiii] And the voice of myriads and myriads and thousands and thousands of angels singing[xiv] drowned out and dried up the last remaining tears. There’ll be no more tears in heaven.
Are you crying today? Did you lose a loved one in recent days? Has death held you hostage for a season? Behold John’s friend—Jesus. Bow down before the Conqueror of sin and death. He alone is worthy to turn your sorrow and sadness into a beautiful song of blessedness.
It’s 8:00pm in the evening as my wife and I join some dear friends for a delicious dinner. Together we’ve just come through a long weekend tending to the funeral of a beloved church member. No sooner do we pray and pick up our forks when the phone rings. My wife’s oldest sister is on the other line. It’s a dreaded long distance call from Manila. Their father, while already in the hospital, went into cardiac arrest. He labors to breathe as the doctors try desperately to revive him. By 8:05pm the family stops all measures to resuscitate him. Dad is too weak. He’s not responding at all. We’re told that it’s only a matter of time. He’s left with a faint pulse. We’ll just have to wait it out. Our food has lost its flavor. It grows cold as we wait for the news. After the longest five minutes the phone rings a third time. Dad has passed away.
We have lost many souls in the past year. We have attended many funerals and burials. We have cried a bucket of tears. Yet every tear we have ever shed, God guarantees that it will be soaked up in gladness.
Listen to the angel’s mighty chorus. Listen to their joyous welcome, “Your loved one made it!” And just like Amelia’s birth, God turns to my father-in-law and says, “Armando, you made it!” Rest easy Dad. The long wait is over. Time is finally and forever eclipsed in eternity.
“Death and Hades gave up
the dead that were in them…
Then Death and Hades were thrown
into the lake of fire.”[xv]
“God will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more...”[xvi]
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[xvii]
2011 Gicky Soriano. All Rights Reserved.
[i] Hebrews 2:15.
[ii] Mark 5:41.
[iii] Luke 7:14.
[iv] John 11:25.
[v] Psalm 23:4.
[vi] Ecclesiastes 7:1 (NASB)
[vii] Luke 15:7.
[viii] Revelation 5:2.
[ix] Revelation 5:5a.
[x] Revelation 5:5b.
[xi] John 1:29.
[xii] Revelation 5:9a.
[xiii] Revelation 5:9b.
[xiv] Revelation 5:11-12.
[xv] Revelation 20:14.
[xvi] Revelation 21:4
[xvii] 1 Corinthians 15:55.