Last week in the preschool class I work in at church, our memory verse was, "He is not here; He has risen." When book time arrived, one of my little girls excitedly announced, "Oh, you don't have to tell me my verse, I already know it!" and proceeded to recite: "He is not here; He is in prison."
(This is the same little girl who at Christmas shared that you have to believe in Jesus and ask Him into your heart or else He won't bring you any Christmas presents. She's so close... and yet so far away.)
So, this Easter season, I've been reflecting. A series of coincidences have occurred in my life surrounding death and loss, interesting timing for this holiday in which we celebrate victory over death.
You see, yesterday I reconnected with the daughter of an old friend who passed away several years ago. Sharing memories and looking through old pictures just made me miss her all the more.
At the same time, my great-aunt just died. The visitation was today. How strange, to be going to a funeral home on Easter. And yet, how fitting. After all, what better reminder of what Easter is all about? She's celebrating new life, eternal life, in heaven today -- because of what happened on the very first Easter Sunday.
It was still a strange experience, because the relative was on my father's side of the family. While my mother's side is mostly present and very close, my father's side of the family is very nearly gone. But for a couple uncles now, his entire family is gone. I was reminded of that as I walked through the doors of the funeral home, as I've done so many times to bid farewell to his father, his stepmother, his aunt and uncle who raised him, his brother, and others. When I saw the brother of my great-uncle who raised my father, so was much like a grandfather to me, it was like seeing my great-uncle again, though he's been gone for thirteen years. My grandfather's two remaining brothers bear a strong resemblance to him, as well... gone for more than twenty years. The familiar faces from my childhood scrolled through my memory and as I realized those times are gone, those people are gone, I can never have another moment with any of them again (on earth), I felt much sorrow.
What if the little girl was right? What if death had imprisoned Jesus, as it could do to each of us without Him? What if He didn't conquer death, what if He didn't rise again? Life as we know it would be so different -- it wouldn't even feel like life at all. It would feel like death. Death would pervade our entire existence. We'd be robbed of all hope, and filled with constant sadness.
But He did overcome the grave, and He is alive today, and because He is, we have not only the hope, but the assurance of eternal life. Eternity is set in our hearts, you know... and I realize now that this is why I miss my friend... my family members, so much. Because it feels wrong to me to think of them as being gone forever, to think of them as nothing more now but a memory, I find myself longing to see them again, to have more time together, to make new memories.
And we will. The reason it feels so wrong to think of them as gone forever is that they aren't gone forever. They've just moved away, and someday I'll move there too, and we'll all be reunited, never to be separated again.
So the song in my heart this year reflects my thoughts upon death and lost loved ones...
"For everything must die to rise again." (Matt Maher)