Most of us are acquainted with death and the accompanying pain that comes from losing a dear one. Jesus felt this pain and loss. He loved both Lazarus and his sisters. When given the news that Lazarus was seriously ill, He intentionally delayed His journey to Bethany by two days. He knew that in order to glorify God, Lazarus would first have to die. He intended to bring God glory by restoring Lazarus back to life. He intended to perform a miracle.
“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” John 11:5 (NKJV)
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Romans 12:15 (NKJV)
When He reached Bethany, Martha and Mary both spoke with Jesus. Upon seeing their grief He was greatly moved. The Bible states that He was troubled… agitated, restless, and distressed. Jesus experienced sorrow and with compassion He grieved with those who mourned. When a loved one dies, Jesus is right beside us. We can lean on Him.
“Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” John 11:33 (NKJV)
“Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how He loved him!’” John 11:35-36 (NKJV)
When we decide to love someone they become a part of our very being. So when God calls them home it feels like a part of our heart has been surgically removed. This ache eventually heals but a scar will remain, a reminder of their impact and importance. So why does the Bible command us to rejoice always? It is because we have the hope of eternal life. Can we experience sorrow but still rejoice? Yes! This is because there is no death or final good-bye.
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 30:11-12 (NKJV)
We have the power to rejoice during times of suffering but it requires a conscious act. We can look inward and wallow in our own pain or we can choose to rejoice over the freedom from pain that our beloved now enjoys. It requires a spiritual perspective. In doing so, we emulate the saving work of Jesus, who suffered and died before rising on the third day. We glorify God in our witness of praise and in our hope for eternal life. The pattern established by Jesus is that suffering precedes glory. Just as Jesus suffered and was raised, we are promised the same thing.
“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NKJV)
Our heavenly Father is not unsympathetic to our grief. He commands us to love one another and He knows the cost of that command. He created us with emotions and the ability to shed tears. Jesus was himself a man of sorrows (Is. 53:3). We can’t help it when feelings arise within us. However, we can control how we react to our feelings. If we are sad, like our Savior, we can weep. Cursing God and turning away from Him would be the wrong reaction. But in this we should take comfort; He collects our tears! This tells us that they are important to Him.
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8 (NIV)
The Bible speaks of our bodies as being mere tents, telling us that in heaven we have buildings from God. Our dearly departed is now clothed with eternal garments. They have the bodies God always intended for them. Free from all sin and in the presence of God, how beautiful they must be!
“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation, which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”
2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (NKJV)
We miss our loved ones when they slip from this world and into eternity. I have found it helpful to imagine my special loves on a very long train ride. They are seeing many wonderful sites. While on their new adventure, the one who loves them most is holding their hand and sitting close. Jesus assures them that we who still reside on earth are just fine and that reunions are in the near future. Their joy in having completed the spiritual race set before them gives us joy as well.
Death is a time when we learn to set aside our wants. If we truly apprehend the gift God has bestowed upon our loved one, we can set aside our discomfort. For their sake, the promise of eternal life will enable us to give Him praise. Love is not self-seeking. Mourn for the absence of their company but rejoice over their homecoming. Ours will come soon enough. There will be a time when good-byes are no longer necessary.