I saw my mother-in-law die this week. It was on Wednesday morning at 7am. My wife held her hand and sang hymns to her till her last breath. I always thought shock was the result of something unexpected. But I was expecting this moment, and still shocked when it happened.
I’d been watching Natalia’s condition for two months via online video chat from Australia. She was obviously getting worse, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw in that room. She looked like a completely different person, so small and fragile. Cancer had wreaked havoc on her, it got to her bones, spine, liver and finally her brain.
It began with a lump. I called everyone I could think of: friends at Loma Linda, Weimar, Harvard and everywhere in between. We counseled with cancer survivors. Then came the mastectomy. She wasn’t comfortable with chemo, so we followed up with cleanses, herbal remedies and juicing like crazy (she should’ve turned green with all that wheat grass). But those wicked little cancer cells came back with a vengeance to finish what they started.
The only thing I can cling to is the resurrection of Christ.
It’s sad, she was too young. The fourteen year old daughter she leaves behind is a reminder of the bad timing of all this. It was painful to watch Natalia suffer but it was also painful to watch my wife grieving. She stood there with her brother realizing that their mom was gone.
Mourning over the loss of our loved ones has got to be among the most difficult things we’ll taste in this life.
It’s difficult for my wife to be in this house without her mom around. Everywhere she looks there is a reminder of her absence: her slippers by the bed, the Russian shawl on the banister, her Chanel perfume in the bathroom, that vase we got her for Christmas.
Jesus Rose, We Will Rise
The sobering reality is that, should time linger, death will come knocking at my door. So at the end of the day, I need to know that this is not the end. That death is not the postlude, just an intermission. I need to know that this is not the whole show. But I can’t access this kind of optimism from anything in this world. There’s simply no basis for it.
The only thing I can cling to is the resurrection of Christ. It’s real. It actually happened. Without this reality, there’s no such thing as hope.
I anchor my life to the resurrection of Christ for many reasons:
- it’s the climax of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
- it’s the foundation of my faith (1 Corinthians 15:14,17)
- it was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (Acts 2:25-36) which tells me that God keeps His promises.
- it reminds me that Christianity is not merely another world religion. It’s anchored on historical facts to ground its theological claims. And one of those stubborn facts is that the tomb was empty.
But this week I’m celebrating the truth that the resurrection of Christ is a bullet-proof guarantee that we will rise again.
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
Vendetta On All Things Evil
Death is the most stubborn undeniable reminder that we live in a fallen world. “Enemy-occupied territory,” as C.S. Lewis put it. But Jesus was a game changer that Sunday morning. He turned the tables on the devil and beat death at death’s own game1: “He also became a human being, so that by going through death as a man he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might also set free those who lived their whole lives a prey to the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15, Phillips)2.
The resurrection of Christ announced a vendetta against the kingdom of darkness. It was a straight-up threat. It announced that Jesus will take death by the neck and choke it into non-existence.
That day is coming, no doubt. But for now, I’m satisfied with Jesus telling me: “I hold the keys of death and Hades” Revelation 1:18 (NIV). In this very room I’m writing from, the room Natalia died in, Christ taunted the devil with those keys and dangled them in his face.
The resurrection was a deathblow to all things evil. It robbed death of its terrors. “Be calm my child,” says the empty tomb, “Death is just a sleep, and the grave is just a bed where you rest from your labors.”
The resurrection of Christ announced a vendetta against the kingdom of darkness.
As a kid, I was afraid of that haunted house we’d visit on Halloween. It was scary: the horror costumes, the creepy noises and screaming, the diabolical props, the eerie music. And the only thing that made it all work was the fact that it was dark in there. But then someone turned the lights on and all of a sudden it wasn’t scary anymore.
I live in a world that sometimes feels like a haunted house. But Jesus switched the lights on. The devil’s kingdom ain’t scary no more.
This Easter holiday we’ll be lowering Natalia into the ground. The letters will be placed: R.I.P. But our mourning will be tempered by a powerful reality. As the poet put it: “When death dies, all things live.”3 We know of a day when a trumpet blast will cut through the dirt and crack through that coffin at Forest Lawn Cemetery, when King Jesus shouts:
- I love that line from Andrew Peterson’s song “Hosanna”, Resurrection Letters, Vol. 2
- J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins
- Michael Gungor, “When Death Dies”, Album: Ghosts Upon the Earth