I was recently at the viewing for a friend I’d known for over 20 years. As I went around hugging necks and catching up on where everyone was in life, I decided to stop and take a moment. I sat down on one of the pews and watched the crowd as they interacted. There were a group of young men standing near the coffin silently staring at the body. I then noticed there were huddles throughout the sanctuary around the family members left behind. They were hugging and offering condolences. Then there was everyone else affected by this person’s life. They weren’t stationary like the others. They moved around making their way up front and then around and that’s when I noticed something out of the ordinary.
There were smiles on their faces. I checked another roaming group and they were smiling as well. I gazed back to the family huddles to look at their demeanor and it was the same. The atmosphere was not one of sadness, but of joy. It was then that I was reminded of I Thessalonians 4:13. Paul wrote, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” Here was living proof of this scripture. I was in a crowd of people smiling and enjoying themselves, while mourning the loss of a friend, because we have hope beyond the grave.
Yes, it hurts to lose someone who impacted our lives and there’s a big, gaping void in us that only they could fill. But we don’t have to carry on like those who have no hope. We don’t see this as the end of life, but rather that person’s birth into eternal life. Their spirit has been set free from the cocoon of the human body and they have been released into the heavens. We know that one day we will cross from death to life as well and be reunited with them and a host of others who knew Jesus as their savior. That’s how we can smile in midst of such a great loss. It seems foreign to those who have no hope, but it’s natural to those of us who do.
I Thessalonians 4 concludes with these words, “Therefore comfort and encourage one another with these words.” We have comfort in sorrow and courage in despair because our loss is Heaven’s gain and we know that we will be reunited. Hope is a powerful force that can light up our darkness and give us strength to smile in the pain. It keeps us from the pit of despair and points us to better days. I’ll finish this post with the words from I Corinthians 13:12-13 that I think are fitting. “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (MSG)”