So often we avoid the word “dead” with phrases like, “she passed away,” or, “we lost her.” Obviously we use those phrases and others because we are scared to say “death, died, dead.” However I can’t imagine a more empty method of describing someone’s death than, “we lost her.” Or even, “she passed away.” Although I have sat with many people as they died and I absolutely get how someone thinks they lost their loved one. One moment they are breathing and then they are gone. And where do they go?
I remember one funeral, specifically. As I walked with the widow back down the aisle of the church, she cried out very sincerely, “He’s gone. I’ve lost him.” She was lost, too. A faithful Christian may find themselves lamenting exactly this. Darkness. Separation. Silence from her cold stiff husband. Suddenly no different than the inanimate hospital bed or window pane. Where did he go? Then the burial. Like a magician’s finale, he is laid in a box, and poof. He’s gone.
Some time ago I endured many sleepless nights in a particular dark night of the soul when I couldn’t shake the possibility that we are all just animals, and death eternally separates us from those we love so dearly. To never see my sons again, ever. What a loneliness. What a darkness. Lost. Passed away. Gone.
I get the phrase. It is real. Ironically those euphemisms for death are far more deadly than death itself.
Yet, we don’t need to be afraid of death. We do not need to avoid even the word. We can say it. We can look into the abyss. We can watch the casket be lowered. Not by pretending it all away. Not by trusting in wishes and fantasies that allow us to go to work the next morning. Christ is risen from the dead. That is a historical and empirical fact. It has actually happened.
St. Paul calls him “the first fruits of the dead.” The first of many. The path has been beaten down with the footprints of a real human being who walked out of the grave.
“I will raise you up on the last day.” These are not the words of a magician or motivational speaker. These are the words of the living Jesus Christ.
So I can cover my 3-week old with dirt. I can confidently place a tomb over his head that says “Safe in Christ.” He is not lost.
So I told that widow the same. “Helen, he isn’t lost at all.” He is more found than when you married him. He is more alive than when you last kissed him. You will see, touch, and laugh with him again.
Like those dangerous creatures who threaten us in the dark woods, death is more afraid of you.